Business Operations: How To Do a Risk Assessment

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated March 9, 2021 | Published December 12, 2019

Updated March 9, 2021

Published December 12, 2019

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A risk assessment is a critical part of business operations because it protects employees by ensuring they are operating safely. Whether you work in a high-risk industry, like manufacturing, or a typical office, employers must conduct risk assessments to become aware of potential hazards. Risk assessment documents should be kept and reviewed routinely for optimal results.

In this article, you’ll learn how to do a risk assessment that might protect your employees and your business.

What is a risk assessment?

A risk assessment is a structured and thorough evaluation of the workplace to identify and resolve risks and hazards. The ultimate objective is to provide a safe work environment for all employees.

Risk assessments benefit workplaces in several ways. First, they help make sure employees aren’t in any immediate, avoidable danger performing their daily duties. In some industries, like construction, where daily duties are dangerous and job-related injuries are common, risk assessments help keep employees operating more safely and protect businesses against liability and labor shortages.

A risk assessment has three main parts:

  1. Identifying risks and hazards in the workplace

  2. Analyzing those risks and hazards

  3. Recording findings and implementing solutions

There’s no clear answer for how often to do a risk assessment. It depends on variables like industry considerations, changes in the workplace, introducing new hazards and other factors. A dedicated employee should be assigned to risk management to determine the necessity and frequency of this important practice.

Related: Risk Manager Resume Samples

How to do a risk assessment

Before you begin a risk assessment, make sure you understand the difference between hazards and risks. Hazard refers to anything in the work environment that could cause harm to someone.

A risk is a chance for an injury because of a hazard. For example, if your workplace has unlabeled chemicals in a plastic bottle under the sink, the chemicals are the hazard and the risk could be the likelihood of employees coming into skin contact with unknown chemicals.

In the following steps, you’ll learn how to do a risk assessment:

1. Walk the workplace identifying hazards and risks

A risk assessment walk-through allows an opportunity for identifying hazards in the workplace. As you conduct the walk-through, examine all areas of the work environment for potential hazards, including crawl spaces, underneath sinks, equipment checks and more.

Commonly, workplace hazards can be segmented into four categories. These are:

  • Mental: Mental hazards are things like harassment, bullying and stress. Anything that can cause the workplace to be an excessively stressful or hostile environment might fall into this category.

  • Physical: Physical hazards are those that are strenuous on the body or can cause bodily injuries not covered in the next two categories. Things like heavy equipment and machinery can cause physical hazards.

  • Biohazards: Biohazards include exposure to infectious diseases, bodily fluids or biological waste. These often occur in the medical field in professions like nursing and home health care.

  • Chemical: Chemical exposure to skin, lungs or other organs can be very dangerous and therefore chemicals pose unique hazards in the work environment.

In an office environment, hazards may be found by checking exposed wires and cables, whereas in a retail store you may have unique hazards like hangers on racks and high inventory shelving. Hazards exist in many work environments, so conducting a risk assessment walk-through should be tailored to your industry and specific requirements.

2. Survey employees and determine who could be harmed

To determine who is at risk, you need to focus on all full- and part-time employees within the organization.

Some employees may be at higher risk than others, so you should thoughtfully consider unique hazards to workers who are young, pregnant or breastfeeding, shift-workers, especially those who work overnight, and people with disabilities.

During this part of the assessment, you should also review work schedules and routines of all workers. One way to get a clear idea of who is at most risk of exposure to existing hazards is to survey employees. By asking employees what hazards they see in the workplace you can learn about ones you may have missed in your walk-through and better understand who might be in contact with hazards regularly.

Related: Safety Manager Resume Templates

3. Evaluate risks and note possible actions and outcomes

Once hazards have been identified and you know who could be most affected by them, analyze the likelihood of each risk occurring.

To do this, review your findings and determine the risks that each hazard poses. For instance, a piece of heavy equipment on the property could pose a physical risk of bodily injury, while being short-staffed may put employees at higher mental risk of being overwhelmed.

Create a list that organizes solutions and controls that can be implemented to reduce the risks you previously uncovered. For example, if you discovered a leak in the roof over the break room creates a recurring puddle on the floor that poses a slip and fall risk, a solution for your list would be to ask building maintenance to fix the roof.

4. Record your findings

To complete your findings, record them in a shareable document that offers transparency about hazards and employee risk. A common recording tactic requires learning how to do a risk assessment matrix. A risk assessment matrix helps you prioritize risks, systematically, using categories like “impact” and “likelihood” on a scale of very low to very high.

In a risk assessment matrix, rows can be structured as follows:

  • Catastrophic: Devastating impact on financial standing, business operations or people in the workplace.

  • Critical: Major impact on financial standing, business operations or people in the workplace.

  • Moderate: Very noticeable impact on financial standing, business operations or people in the workplace.

  • Minor: Some impact on financial standing, business operations or people in the workplace.

  • Insignificant: Little to no impact on financial standing, business operations or people in the workplace.

Columns may be structured like this:

  • Definite: Hazard is most likely to occur.

  • Likely: Hazard is somewhat likely to occur.

  • Occasional: Hazard is may occur

  • Seldom: Hazard could occur, but is not likely.

  • Unlikely: Hazard could occur, but is not likely in regular circumstances.

Using a risk assessment matrix offers clear communication that can be shared with employees and those responsible for resolving the hazards.

Read more: How To Use a Risk Assessment Matrix

5. Review and update your risk assessment

Workplace hazards are always changing so it’s important to review your risk assessment as needed. Changes to employee work practices and routines, introducing new equipment or substances and other variables can all prompt a review of your risk assessment document.

Reviewing the document also allows you to ensure that all agreed-upon safety practices are being used in daily operations by all full-time and part-time employees. When new risks are identified, the risk assessment document should be updated to reflect them.

Explore more articles