What is a risk assessment in construction?

Risk assessment in construction

The construction industry differs from other workplace industries in that they have a unique set of risks that other industries might not have to consider. Although it is impossible to eliminate the risk of injury or death in any industry or job site, there are steps businesses can take to reduce risk within a workplace and ensure on-site safety. In the construction industry, every contractor has the right to expect a safe workplace. Performing a risk assessment before the start of a project will help managers identify potential risks and develop a plan to mitigate or reduce those risks.

What is risk assessment in construction?

A construction risk assessment identifies any dangerous factors or hazards on a construction site that can potentially cause injury, illness, harm or other damage to the workforce. Carrying out a risk assessment is a legal requirement under The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 which lays out the legal responsibilities of employers to provide a safe working environment for their employees. Usually, risk assessment is a three-part process: identifying hazards, analysing and evaluating risk and controlling the risk. Following the risk assessment, employers must provide comprehensible and relevant information to their employees about the identified risks to their health and safety and the preventative and protective measures being introduced to ensure safety on the construction site.

When should a risk assessment be carried out?

Risk assessments should be carried out before the work activity begins. In the construction industry, risk assessments apply to a wide range of activities, such as the use of plant machinery and lifting and handling equipment. Examples include activities as simple as painting a window frame to more complex activities such as the erection of scaffolding or a steel framed structure.

When carrying out the risk assessment, factors to consider are the nature of the hazard presence, the likelihood and severity of the harm that could result, and the frequency of exposure to the hazard. Those carrying out the risk assessment will require adequate training to ensure they are capable of identifying potential risks. Continuous monitoring of the potential risks is paramount to ensure the effectiveness of the control measures in place, and reassessment should be carried out where necessary.

Who carries out formal risk assessments?

Risk assessments should be carried out by competent persons with appropriate knowledge and experience of the activities to be assessed. The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 places a responsibility on the client to ensure that they are appointing people or organisations with the appropriate skills, knowledge and experience to manage and determine health and safety risks in the workplace. In some cases, it may be necessary for an independent specialist to carry out the risk assessment. The individual carrying out the formal risk assessment should have a good understanding of how accidents are caused, the principles of accident prevention and hazard management, health and safety management, and appropriate legal and regulatory requirements.

What are the types of risk assessment?

There are several types of risk assessments an assessor can utilise, depending on which assessment is most appropriate to the work situation.

Preliminary risk assessment

The purpose of an informational preliminary risk assessment is to identify the level of detail that will be required in a full risk assessment. In this initial assessment, construction activities that involve a significant risk of injury will be determined and will warrant a full assessment.

Qualitative assessment

Construction activities which involve a small range of simple risks can utilise a straightforward assessment process based on informed judgement and reference to any appropriate guidance material. A qualitative assessment can be undertaken solely on the subjective judgement of the assessor.

Semi-quantitative assessments

Construction activities dealing with more complex risks require a more sophisticated semi-quantitative risk assessment. With this type of assessment, specialist advice and analytical techniques relating to monitoring the risk may be required to identify and prevent the risk.

Quantitative assessments

Large and hazardous construction environments require a more objective process, such as a fault tree analysis, event tree analysis and quantitative assessments based on historical data. It is paramount that high-risk activities are accurately assessed using the techniques available to reduce and prevent the risk from occurring. The purpose of this assessment is to identify risks which are not completely reliant on the assessors subjective judgement.

Systematic approach to risk assessment

Many organisations use a systematic six-step approach to identify risks in an organisation. The first step assessors take is to identify the hazards by completing an inventory of all sources of hazards. Next, the assessor determines who might be harmed by the risk and the potential severity of injury or occurrence. The third step in this approach is to evaluate the risks and determine precautions to be taken. By rating the risks associated with each hazard, an assessor can prioritise which risk needs to be a priority. Next, the assessor will give each risk a hazard rating in terms of low, medium and high. In general, low risks are equivalent to risks in everyday life and therefore acceptable. However, high risks require urgent action. Any protective and preventive measures need to be planned, organised, controlled, monitored, reviewed and recorded. The fifth step an assessor will take is to record the risk assessment. By law, the risk has to be recorded in writing and shared with the workforce and other relevant individuals. Finally, the risk should be reviewed on a regular basis and updated where necessary.

Risk assessments are a necessary procedure to be completed by an organisation before commencing any construction activity. By identifying and evaluating risks, management can implement procedures to minimise risk and provide a safer working environment for their employees.