A risk assessment is a legal requirement that will enable you to effectively manage health and safety within your workplace. The aim is to make sure that no-one gets hurt or becomes ill while doing their job, both of which not only have personal consequences, but can affect your business if output is lost, machinery is damaged, insurance costs increase or if you have to go to court.

Even if you are self-employed and do not have employees, you still need to assess health and safety risks that may affect you and others such as fellow contractors, office staff and members of the public.

By identifying what hazards arise from your work, who may be harmed and how and what steps you need to take to protect yourself and others, you are complying with the legal requirement to assess risks.

Whether you have already registered or not, HSE inspectors have the power to enter your premises, inspect and investigate and take measurements, samples and photographs if they feel it necessary. They also have the power to seize, render harmless or destroy dangerous items and obtain information and take statements. They can also prosecute employers who contravene the law.

Where the breach of the law is relatively minor, the officer may tell the duty holder (for example the employer or contractor) what to do to comply with the law, and explain why in plain language. The officer will also write to confirm any advice.

Where the breach of the law is more serious or contraventions are repeated, the officer may serve an Improvement Notice under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. This notice tells the duty holder what the breach of legislation is, what they have to do to comply with the notice and how long they have to comply with the law.

The officer will discuss the Improvement Notice and, if possible, any discrepancies before serving it. The time period within which to take the remedial action must be at least 21 days, allowing the duty holder time to appeal to an industrial tribunal if necessary. The officer can then take further legal action if the notice is not complied with within the specified time period.

Where an activity involves a risk of serious personal injury, the officer will serve a Prohibition Notice under Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. This prohibits the activity immediately and it cannot be resumed until remedial action has been taken.

Businesses which have taken the initiative by carrying out a risk assessment and taking action to minimise any risks in the workplace are less likely to experience difficulties or downtime as a result of HSE inspector visits.

How to save money

According to the HSE, health and safety failures cost Britain's employers up to £6.5bn every year, of which between £0.9bn and £3.7bn is due to accidental damage to property and equipment. Carrying out a risk assessment is the first step to minimising the cost of health and safety by ensuring the correct preventative measures are in place.

Furthermore, good risk management also plays a part in determining employers' liability and public liability insurance costs. Insurers assume firms comply with the legal requirements. The ABI states that firms demonstrating an appreciation of health and safety issues above what the law requires, which have risk management programmes in place to minimise the risks, “may benefit from cheaper insurance.” The ABI states that while it isn’t a case of premium discounts for good risk management, there is a risk that insurers may not be willing to provide liability insurance cover without it.

An insurance company may also reduce, delay, or even refuse to pay out on any claim for damage if, for example, an appliance that hasn’t been tested has caused the problem.