Practitioner Corner

How do I write a risk assessment?

Writing your first risk assessment can seem like a daunting task. Fear of the blank page is a common problem; no idea where to start, or what to write. To start you have  to break down the core components of a risk assessment and build it from there.
Let’s look at those core components:

Step 1: Identify the hazards

The easiest way to get started with identifying hazards in your workplace…is to walk around and look for them! It’s simple, look for anything that has the potential to harm someone.
Remember PEME: people, equipment, machinery and environment. Keep a look out for:

• Objects that can cause slips and trips, like cables across the floor
• Things that can cause falls from height, like ladders and raised working areas
• Machinery and electrical hazards, such as frayed wires
• Biological hazards, like blood, bacteria and animals
• Working situations that cause strain, such as lifting heavy objects, vibration and
poor posture
• Chemicals

Ask to see past accident records. Check the manufacturer’s label for products you’re using.
And don’t forget to think about any long-term health hazards, such as asbestos-related

Step 2: Consider who might be harmed

After you have identified the hazards, it’s time to work out who could be harmed by the job.
Remember, it’s not only about employees; think about other people that may come into contact with the works.
Some people may be more vulnerable than others – for example, people that work on scaffolding are more at risk of falling from height.
For each hazard you have spotted, make a note of who has the potential to be harmed.
Is it the employee, a contractor, members of the public; or all of them? Are they at risk of falling from height; or walking under scaffolding, running the risk of an object falling on them? Think about every possibility.

Step 3: Evaluating the risks

You then need to decide how likely the risks are to happen and how severe they would be if they did. One of the most common ways to complete this assessment is using a risk matrix.
A risk matrix is a grid that maps the severity of the risk against the likelihood of it
happening. It helps to identify the steps you can take to reduce the potential to harm, and which risks require the most attention.

Step 4: Control Measures

You now know who is likely to be hurt, how, and by what, so it’s time to consider what you can put in place to avoid or reduce the risks. Control measures are the actions you take to reduce the severity and/or likelihood of a hazard causing harm.
Consider all the different ways that you could remove or reduce this risk. Is there particular clothing that would protect your workers? Would regular cleaning help? Do you need to improve lighting in the area? Anything from changes to the environment, working practices, and training can help.
Another handy acronym to have at your disposal is ERIC PD. Eliminate, Reduce, Isolate, Control, PPE and Discipline.

It’s important to go through control measures in that order.
Many rely on PPE as the sole control measure, however, this should only ever be
considered as a last resort.
Control measures often work best in combination with each other. They don’t have to be expensive to be effective, and they should be ‘sensible’. This means that they shouldn’t get in the way of employees getting the job done, but should protect them while they do so.

Step 5: Write the risk assessment

It’s time to write the risk assessment itself. The risk assessment should be clear and concise and cover the information you have pieced together in the previous steps. It’s really important to take your time when you write a risk assessment. Consider all possibilities, and take every risk into account.
Risk assessments are the first place that Department of Labour Inspectors go after an incident has been reported. If they find fault, your business could face a substantial fine.
The three most common faults that inspectors find in risk assessments:

  1. The wrong hazards: From failing to identify all hazards linked to an activity, to not explaining the hazard enough. Including the wrong hazards in your risk assessment may lead to your document being rejected, or worse.
  2. The wrong people: It’s a common mistake to forget about the public when considering the person at risk of a hazard. Ensure you consider all the possible people who who could be harmed, don’t just think about your employees.
  3. Not giving the full picture: take the time to really think about your risk assessment, and whether you have covered all possibilities. Have you included reactive work as well as planned? Have you included every reasonable control measure? Have you provided detail on how the measures can reduce the risk?

Your risk assessment needs to make it clear how lives will be protected.

Step 6: Regular review

Few workplaces stay the same. Sooner or later, you will bring in new equipment, substances or procedures or hired new team members that could lead to new hazards. As a result, it makes sense to review what you are doing on an ongoing basis. It is standard practice to review a risk assessment on an annual basis as a minimum.
However, you need to set a review process that works for your organisation.
Remember: a risk assessment is only complete when the job is. As your job progresses, make sure to review your risk assessment on an ongoing basis and ask yourself:

  • Have there been any significant changes?
  • Are there improvements you still need/can make?
  • Have your workers spotted a problem?
  • Have you learnt anything from accidents or near misses?

You don’t have to get your risk assessment right the very first time. Do the best you can, then continue to enhance it as the project progresses.


Cheslyn Koopman
Cheslyn is a Senior Health and Safety professional with an extensive safety, construction and fire background gained in the steel manufacturing, nuclear generation, food manufacturing and a research institution. After years of leading and setting strategic direction for all safety related matters for South African manufacturing plants and a global construction and facilities management company is now the senior consultant for all Health and Safety matters at a fully autonomous world leading Nuclear Power Plant in the Middle East.

2 Replies to “How do I write a risk assessment?

  1. The Writing a Risk Assessment covers writing issue- or job task based risk assessments not baseline risk assessments which should cover all the risks that could impact on the business, project or operation as required be section 5(1a) on the construction regulations. – Leighton Bennett

    1. Thank you for this article. I find it strange that the “Construction” baseline risk assessment is always drawn into the discussion. There are other industries also in South Africa. A base line risk assessment is also contemplated in the OHS Bill and it is the launch pad of all other issue or job based risk assessments. Frankly, there is no need for an “issue” based risk assessment if you have a proper method statement or operating procedure. These issue and job based risk assessments are only useful in a dynamic work environment like construction sites. Normal business operations like a production line is static and issue based assessments has no real value, except to keep the Safety Reps busy.

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