The University of Southampton

Health and Safety Risk Assessment: A Basic Guide

Each school, university, institution and even university school or faculty has its own risk assessment form and submission procedure — please contact your appropriate health and safety officer to find the details you need. However, the process of identifying risks and ensuring they are accounted for is the same. Use the steps below and the Risk Estimation Matrix to help you through the process. An example of a completed risk assessment form detailing hazards that are relevant to most engagement activities can be found here.

1) Identify all hazards, hazard events, and reasonably foreseeable worst case consequences.

Each of these will form an item on your risk assessment form.

A ‘hazard’ is something with the potential to cause harm (i.e. injury or ill-health). A ‘hazard event’ is the incident where the harm from the hazard occurs. A ‘hazard consequence’ is the nature and extent of the harm caused.

Worst case’ means it is not necessarily the most likely consequence that should be considered but ‘reasonably foreseeable worst case’ means that far-fetched, improbable hazards and consequences need not be considered.


2) Estimate inherent risk for each hazard. ‘Inherent’ risk is that without any controls applied.

Use the Risk Estimation Matrix. In estimating risk, also consider factors that could exacerbate risk, such as reasonably foreseeable emergencies, inexperience, lone work, pregnancy, waste disposal, potential effects on others such as contractors or visitors, etc. These may be included in other items on the risk assessment form or be written as items themselves.

‘Risk’ is the likelihood of the hazard event and the reasonably foreseeable worst case consequence combined. ‘High’ risks must be reduced before an activity/task can commence or continue. ‘Medium’ risks must be reduced as much and as soon as is reasonably practicable. ‘Low’ risks, by definition, do not require controls.


3) Devise controls for each hazard. A ‘control’ is a measure taken to reduce risk.

As a general principle, the ‘hierarchy’ of control that is to be applied (from most to least preferable) is: avoid the risk; substitute something less hazardous that gives the same or similar outcomes; ‘engineering controls’ i.e. equipment and articles that mitigate or contain a hazard; ‘safe system of work’ i.e. a prescribed work method; and ‘personal protective equipment’ (PPE) e.g. gloves, safety glasses, respirator, boots, etc.

Other controls that should be considered are: training, supervision, planning for reasonably foreseeable emergencies, health surveillance, validation and maintenance of any engineering controls, and correct specification of any PPE.


4) Estimate residual risk for each hazard. ‘Residual’ risk is that with controls applied.

Estimate as in point 2). The objective is for all residual risks to be low as far as is reasonably practicable.


5) The risk assessment must be read and signed by the risk assessor (person completing the form), users (anyone carrying out the tasks) and the responsible manager/supervisor approving the form.

  • Health & safety risk assessments must be ‘suitable and sufficient’ i.e. cover all relevant issues and include enough detail. They can be generic, provided they remain ‘suitable and sufficient’.
  • It is activities/tasks that should be risk assessed, and not, as such, substances (but rather use of substances), or equipment (but rather use of equipment), or locations (but rather activities therein), or people (but rather what they do).
  • Certain hazards require additional regulatory and technical detail (e.g. ionising radiations, biological agents, genetic modification, noise, hazardous chemicals, etc.).
  • Health & safety risk assessments need to be reviewed periodically (at least every two years or sooner if inherent risk is high) and also after incidents, after significant changes to the activity/task, if staff raise any concerns, if there is a relevant change to the law or to other relevant standards, or if there is anything to suggest the assessment is not suitable or sufficient.



Back to Appendix 5: Risk Assessments

…On to Health and Safety Risk Estimation Matrix.

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