Risk assessment

What is a risk assessment?

Risk assessments are part of the risk management process and are included in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations.

A risk assessment is the process of  identifying  what hazards currently exist or may appear in the workplace. A risk assessment defines which workplace hazards are likely to cause harm to employees and visitors.

What does a risk assessment include?

Risks need to be considered in all aspects of the working environment. Here are some examples of the things that should be included in a risk assessment:

  • Hazards: electrical safety, fire safety, manual handling, hazardous substances, risk factors for repetitive strain injury, stress, violence, infectious diseases (COVID-19);
  • Tasks: cleaning with chemical substances, maintenance work or dealing with the public;
  • Organisational factors: staffing policies, systems of work, equipment-purchasing policies, consultation and participation, management techniques or working hours, shift patterns, lone working;

If you have a concern about health and safety, or if you are worried that your employer is not taking measures to prevent or minimise risk, contact your safety rep as soon as possible.

Who needs to conduct a risk assessment?

By law, every employer must conduct risk assessments on the work their employees do.  If the company or organisation employs more than five employees, then the results should be recorded with details of any groups of employees particularly at risk such as older, younger, pregnant or disabled employees.

How an employer carries out a basic risk assessment

Risk assessments should be simple to conduct, following a process that includes:

  • looking for and listing the risks to health and safety;
  • deciding who might be harmed and how;
  • checking that protective measures are effective;
  • evaluating the risks arising from the hazards and deciding whether existing precautions are adequate;
  • recording the findings;
  • reviewing the assessment from time to time and revising it when required, particularly if the building is refurbished, moved, or when there is a change in staffing.

Read more about general health and safety issues in the workplace.

Advice for UNISON health and safety reps

Safety reps have an important role in examining employers’ risk assessments and deciding whether they are suitable and sufficient.

What is essential to remember as a safety rep is that risk assessments should be systematic and thorough, looking at what happens in real workplaces, not what employers believe should  happen.

These are some of the actions you can take to make sure that the risk assessment in your workplace is adequate:

  • talk to people who do the jobs and have practical understanding of the hazards and risks involved;
  • observe what happens by inspecting the premises;
  • check the written assessment and plans and make sure that all the risks are being covered. A clear strategy to improve health and safety in the workplace should be represented;
  • check that it’s clear who is responsible for implementing the action;
  • challenge shortcomings;
  • agree priorities for action with your employer.

As a safety rep, you have extensive rights under the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations (SRSC). These rights are set out in full under Regulations 4, 5, 6 and 7 of the SRSC and include the following:

  • the right to investigate health and safety matters;
  • the right to be consulted;
  • the right to inspect the workplace, at least four times each year;
  • the right to receive information, including risk assessments;
  • the right to take paid time off to perform your functions and undergo training.

COVID-19 Risk Assessments

COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of risk assessment in the workplace.

During the pandemic employers should make every reasonable effort to enable staff to work from home in the first instance. If this is not possible, then before workers can return to their normal workplace employers should undertake a risk assessment to make it ‘COVID–secure’

COVID-19 may cause you harm so employers must therefore put in place measures to prevent its spread.  A risk assessment is the process of  identifying  what hazards currently exist or may appear in the workplace. A risk assessment defines which workplace hazards are likely to cause harm to employees and visitors. Employers must keep their COVID assessments under constant review taking into account changes to government guidance, technological developments such as vaccines, and our improved understanding of how the disease is transmitted (including the emergence of new variants).

Employers must identify all those for whom they have a duty of care, whether they are staff or service-users who are classed as being either at most or moderate risk from COVID-19.

The most comprehensive data yet on inequalities in COVID-19 risks and outcomes at population level has now been published by Public Health England.

Our Risk Assessment Guide for Safety Reps contains detailed guidance on COVID-19 assessments.

COVID-19 Risk Assessment Checklist for Safety Reps

Information for UNISON members working in the NHS

This confirms disproportionate rates of COVID-19 diagnosis and deaths for Black people.

We are concerned about the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black workers.

We have developed a template risk assessment for Black and other vulnerable workers. 

Our sector-based risk assessment advice also includes guidance on taking account of the increased risk to Black staff.

An increasing number of employers have put in place specific processes to assess risks for Black workers. For example, Aneurin Bevan Hospital Board has produced risk assessment forms and guidance. These can be found in the resources section below.

Other major areas of disparity include age; sex; geography; deprivation levels; occupation; co-morbidities and obesity.

There is a critical role for union reps across the UK in working with employers to ensure that:

  • risks are addressed effectively and meaningfully
  • appropriate action is taken to support staff to work safely
  • employers properly listen to the issues and concerns staff have about their circumstances

Employers should consider all groups at risk through COVID-19.


Key facts
  • A risk assessment is the process of identifying what hazards exist, or may appear in the workplace, how they may cause harm and to take steps to minimise harm.
  • Accident rates are lower where employees genuinely feel they have a say in H&S matters (14%), compared with workplaces where employees don’t get involved (26%).
  • Workplaces with H&S committees where some members are selected by unions have significantly lower rates of work-related injury than workplaces with no co-operative H&S management.


Risk assessment

  • How can UNISON help me stay safe in the workplace?

    Over the years UNISON has campaigned to raise awareness of safety in the workplace. UNISON representatives have used risk assessments to press for and win better working conditions, more resources for health and safety and greater workforce involvement in health and safety issues.

    UNISON’s volunteer safety reps play a very important role in inspecting premises and working with employers to make sure the workplace is as risk-free as possible. Find out more about becoming a safety rep.

  • What should I do if I am injured in the workplace?

    Any serious incidents must be reported by law to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) so you need to make sure your employer knows about the incident. Serious incidents include death in service, major injuries, other dangerous incidents such as the collapse of scaffolding, disease, or any injury that prevents employees from working for over three days.

  • What should I do if I find a risk in the workplace?

    Notify your safety rep or your employer if you find a risk in your workplace. Your employer should take steps to eliminate or reduce the risk and record their findings and any actions taken.