Your complete guide to risk assessments — with free templates
Solid foundations are essential when starting or growing a small business, but as you’re building them you’ll be faced with all sorts of challenges that make you question your decisions, instincts, or knowledge.
So this is a guide for small businesses who are putting their HR foundations in place and want to feel confident that they comply with workplace regulations. It will help you understand what you need and why, but without the daunting — and often confusing — legal jargon.
Specifically we’ll be looking at risk assessments, which are something we advise small businesses about all the time at Charlie.
Keep reading if you want to know why you need a risk assessment at work, or are unclear on how to write a risk assessment, or are just looking for an easy-to-adapt risk assessment template.
As one of Charlie’s CIPD-qualified advisors, I specialise in getting new businesses off to a good start by making sure they comply with HR law requirements and understand why risk assessment is important. So I recognise that:
- You might feel worried that you don’t understand all the legal requirements well enough, and could accidentally make mistakes that will cause legal trouble for your company.
This is especially relevant for small businesses, where the person responsible for HR can be either the CEO (who’s incredibly busy), or a junior member of the team (who’s understandably inexperienced), and where seeking advice from a lawyer is just too expensive.
We’ll break down the jargon so that you can easily apply it to the real-life scenarios you face every day, and understand where and how you’d put risk assessments in place.
What is a risk assessment?
A risk assessment is the process of identifying hazards that exist or can occur in the workplace, and how they could cause harm — and then looking at what you can do to minimise that harm or reduce the risk.
For the purposes of this guide, we’ll focus on what’s required for a risk assessment for office-working teams and a home working risk assessment for remote or hybrid working employees.
Why is it important to do risk assessments?
As an employer, you're required by law to protect your employees, and anyone else who comes into contact with you (customers, suppliers, contractors etc.) from harm or potential harm.
The minimum you must do is:
- Identify what could cause injury or illness in your business (hazards)
- Decide how likely it is that someone could be harmed and how seriously (the risk)
- Take action to eliminate the hazard, or if this isn't possible, control the risk
(Source: Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999)
Risk assessments help you create and maintain a safer and healthier place to work and to avoid having to write a workplace accident report if a problem was to arise.
It it a very proactive approach, so you also need to ensure that you have undertaken a working from home risk assessment to cover your remote or hybrid-working teams. Your approach to home working should be balanced, so although you’re unlikely to need to visit individual team members’ homes, you do need to make sure they have healthy and safe environments to work from.
A risk assessment must be completed if there is ‘reasonably foreseeable and significant risk’, and if your business has five or more staff it must be written down.
For example, a risk assessment for working from an office should include hazards like:
- Slips, trips and falls (wet floors, stairs, loose carpet, tripping over wires etc.)
- Eye strain from looking at computer screens for too long
- Fire hazards
- Ergonomic injuries caused by sitting poorly/badly set up workstations
How do you write a risk assessment?
If you’ve never written a risk assessment, then it’s only natural that it’s going to feel out of your comfort zone. So, as part of Charlie’s HR advice service, we’ve devised a 5-step process for conducting risk assessments at your small business:
1. Identify the hazards
Walk around your workplace and look for hazards, Not all of them will be obvious, so take your time and think about the different, possible scenarios. And ask your team for their input, as they’ll likely think of things that you may not. You can also get information from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
2. Decide who might be harmed and how
Consider everyone who could be affected — members of the public and contractors, as well as your employees.
3. Evaluate the risks and plan solutions
You’re not expected to remove all risk, but you must do everything practically possible to eliminate the hazards or control the risks.
4. Record and implement your findings
If your organisation has five or more employees, your risk assessment must be written down.
5. Review and update when necessary
Risk assessments should be reviewed from time to time, and significant risks will need reviewing more often than minor ones.You will need to do a new risk assessment if there are significant changes in your processes, practises or legislation.
Our HR Advice team at Charlie can supply a personalised risk assessment template or create a bespoke risk assessment template for you (based on your unique company context), so please feel free to get in touch. We also run Health and Safety training sessions, which you are welcome to join.
What are the different types of risk assessment?
You’ll need the following types of risk assessment at your small business:
Fire risk assessment
A fire risk assessment is a review of your premises and the people who use them from the perspective of fire prevention. In a fire risk assessment, you assess all potential risks and make recommendations to improve fire safety precautions to keep people safe.
Home working risk assessment
A home working risk assessment assesses the hazards relating to any work activities carried out in an employee’s home, and whether appropriate measures have been put in place to minimise risks and prevent harm. It covers the general working environment (including fire and electrical) as well as specifics relating to their daily job, like how their workstation is set up.
Mental health risk assessment
Also known as stress risk assessments or mental wellbeing at work risk assessments, mental health risk assessments identify the stress risk factors at a business that could negatively impact your employees’ mental health.
All employers have a legal duty to protect their employees from stress in the workplace, and mental health risk assessments are typically put together by line managers who have operational responsibility for members of the team.
Pregnancy risk assessment
Pregnancy risk assessments need to be done as soon as an employee tells you they’re pregnant through a maternity leave letter. It should include checking for things like:
- Is there any new risk in the work they carry out?
- Are they comfortable in their working environment?
- Is there anything you can do to support them more? (buying a back support for their office chair, for example)
In a pregnancy risk assessment, you would offer to support a team member with any reasonable adjustments required for doing their job safely, like taking regular breaks.
You can get a copy of our pregnancy risk assessment template below (it's a Google Sheet spreadsheet, just click on "make a copy" when prompted and fill it in with your team member's details).
Finding help and support with your risk assessments
Even without the legal jargon, there’s a lot to take in when it comes to risk assessments. And there’s a lot still to do once you understand them.
But as risk assessments are a legal requirement, it’s vital to get them right. Because of this, many small businesses seek support from HR experts. Experts like Charlie.
Charlie helps small businesses in two ways: through our HR Advice service and with our HR software.
HR Advice with Charlie
Charlie’s HR Advice is a bespoke support service that exists to help small companies and startups. You access industry-leading expertise by phone, email or live chat whenever you need it.
Our qualified-CIPD advisors can help and support you through:
- Providing bespoke advice on how to conduct risk assessments for your unique workplace
- Carrying out the risk assessments for you
- Supplying personalised Health and Safety training for your team with our qualified advisors
We also have an in-depth Health and Safety e-book with advice that’s tailored to small business’ needs and is available to buy.
You can book a chat with our HR Advice team to find out more about any of the services above and other ways they can help you.
“With HR Advice, it’s like having an extra member on your team. You have that kind of expertise you can lean on whenever you need it, without needing to hire someone into the business.” - Ben Wharfe, Chief People Officer at Fiit
Charlie’s HR software
Our all-in-one HR software helps small businesses with risk assessments by:
- Tracking your team’s location
You can easily record and track your team’s whereabouts (whether they’re working from home, from the office, or from a particular site). This information will help you identify what types of risk assessments you need.
- Storing your documents
With Charlie, you store all your important documents in one, safe place. And you can manage permissions, so you can choose which members of your team can view certain documents.
Charlie helps thousands of small businesses feel confident they have the right risk assessments in place and comply with HR law requirements. And you can be just like them.
With our 7-day free trial, you’ll immediately be able to track your team’s location and store documents. Plus, you’ll be able to manage onboarding and time off, run performance reviews and employee engagement and HR surveys, and offer your team a whole host of perks and benefits.
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