A risk assessment is a look at what could go wrong and cause harm and whether there are adequate controls in place. You must record the findings if you have more than 5 employees, however it is good practice to still record if you have fewer.
It is never possible to eliminate risks altogether, but we should try to reduce them as far as possible.
Some individuals are especially at risk including:
- Lone workers
- Pregnant and nursing mothers
- Children, young people and vulnerable adults
- Disabled team members and customers.
In order to carry out a risk assessment for each significant hazard, decide if the risk is high, medium or low. For example, the risk of infection from a blood-borne virus is high in dentistry but, providing current infection control procedures are followed (including recommended immunisations), the risk should be low.
Draw up an 'action list' and give priority to hazards where the risks are high and/or those which could affect most people.
Risk assessments should be dated, done yearly and brought to the attention of all team members. In addition, they should be revised when any equipment, machinery, substances or procedures that could create hazards are introduced or changed.
Who is responsible?
Health and safety laws apply to all businesses. As an employer or a self-employed person you are responsible for health and safety in your business. However it is a good idea to involve the whole team. Newer team members are invaluable in assessing the practice environment as they will have had less time to get used to it and may spot hazards that long term members of staff no longer notice.
Begin at the entrance and move through the building.
Risk assessments for chemical products
A chemical products (COSHH) assessment concentrates on the hazards and risks from substances in your workplace. Most materials come with a Safety Data Sheet (SDS). This will provide information on the hazardous properties of the substances you are using, any health effects associated with its use, how likely it is to get into the air or onto the skin, and what risk reduction measures you should use to control exposure to an acceptable level. Bear in mind that it will not be specific to your workplace and cannot take into account the particular environment you work in.
You will need to assess, for each product, who might be harmed and the first aid measures, should an incident occur. Store the assessments in a folder which is easily accessible for all. Any significant risks should be brought to the attention of all team members.
Your COSSH folder should be a 'living' document, which you revisit if circumstances change. It should definitely be reviewed when:
- There is reason to suspect the assessment is no longer valid
- There has been a significant change in the work
- The results of monitoring employees' exposure show it to be necessary.
Fire safety risk assessments
As an employer and/or building owner or occupier you are required to carry out and maintain a fire safety risk assessment. This is under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, in England and Wales, and under Part 3 of the Fire (Scotland) Act. The fire safety assessment can be carried out either as a separate exercise or as part of a single risk assessment covering other health and safety risks.
When assessing fire hazards, you should ask how a fire could start, e.g. electrical equipment, naked flames, and what could burn, e.g. packaging and varnish. You may wish to consider having the first assessment carried out by a fire expert. They will be able to advise you on the risks and control measures that need to be put in place and the best escape routes within the practice.
You need to make sure that, based on the findings of the assessment, you take adequate and appropriate fire safety measures to minimise the risk of injury or loss of life in the event of a fire.
You'll need to consider:
- Emergency routes and exits
- Fire detection and warning systems
- Firefighting equipment
- The removal or safe storage of dangerous substances
- An emergency fire evacuation plan
- The needs of vulnerable people, for example the elderly, young children or those with disabilities
- Providing information to employees and other people on the premises
- Staff fire safety training.
Practice management consultant
Adapted from an article by Pudie, H A general approach to risk assessments BDJ In Practice 2018; 10: 31.
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