What Is a Risk Assessment? Process, Tools & Template

what is a risk assessment

What Is a Risk Assessment?

Risk assessment is the process of identifying and evaluating potential hazards that could negatively impact people, property, or the environment. It is often part of a comprehensive risk management process and helps organizations understand what might go wrong and the possible outcomes. The main purpose of risk assessment is to prevent accidents and injuries by finding ways to control or mitigate risks.

The importance of risk assessment lies in its ability to create a safer workplace, comply with legal requirements, and save costs by avoiding accidents and damages. It involves risk analysis to understand the severity and likelihood of each risk. This article will cover the different types, processes, tools, and applications of risk assessment across various industries.

When to Do a Risk Assessment?

Knowing when to conduct a risk assessment is important for maintaining safety and preventing problems. There are specific times when performing a risk assessment becomes necessary.

  • Starting a new project: Before beginning any new project, a risk analysis helps identify potential hazards.
  • Changes in processes or equipment: Whenever there are updates or changes in the workplace, it’s important to reassess risks.
  • After an incident or near miss: If an accident or a close call happens, a follow-up risk assessment helps prevent future occurrences.
  • Introduction of new regulations: When new laws or guidelines are introduced, it’s necessary to review and update the current risk assessment.
  • Periodic reviews: Regularly scheduled risk assessments help ensure that no new risks have appeared over time.


Types of Risk Assessment

According to the Health Service Executive (HSE), there are three major types of risk assessment: generic, specific, and dynamic, each serving different purposes in managing safety.

Generic Risk Assessment

A Generic Risk Assessment looks at common hazards that many workplaces might encounter. These hazards include slips, trips, falls, fire, noise, vibration, and manual handling activities. This type of assessment is useful for identifying risks that are generally present in similar tasks across different workplaces. By using this approach, organizations can create standard safety measures for common issues.

Specific Risk Assessment

A Specific Risk Assessment focuses on high-risk work activities. This type addresses unique hazards that require specialized attention, such as working with chemical agents, display screen equipment and remote working conditions. It also includes risks associated with pregnant employees, specific manual handling tasks, biological agents, and work-related stress. Specific assessments provide detailed insights into particular tasks, ensuring that each unique risk is properly managed.

Dynamic Risk Assessment

A Dynamic Risk Assessment evaluates risks for employees in changing circumstances. This type is essential for workers who are alone, in environments with potential for aggression or violence, or involved in manual handling activities. Dynamic assessments are done informally and on the spot, adapting to immediate hazards as they arise. Any issues identified must be addressed and reported to a manager to maintain safety.

Quantitative vs Qualitative Risk Assessment

There are two main risk assessment methods within the different types of risk assessment discussed above: quantitative and qualitative risk assessment methods.

Quantitative Risk Assessment uses numerical data to measure risk levels. This approach involves calculating the likelihood of an event and the severity of its consequences using statistics and mathematical models. For example, a factory might use past accident data to predict the probability of future incidents and determine the potential financial impact. Quantitative assessments provide precise and measurable results, making them useful for detailed analysis and planning.

Qualitative Risk Assessment relies on descriptive data and expert opinions to evaluate risks. This method involves ranking risks based on their likelihood and impact without using exact numbers. For instance, a construction site might assess risks by discussing potential hazards with workers and ranking them as low, medium, or high. Qualitative assessments are more flexible and easier to perform, making them suitable for situations where numerical data is unavailable or unnecessary.


Risk Assessment Process: How to Do Risk Assessment

Before conducting the risk assessment, here are some factors to prepare and consider:

  • Scope: Define the boundaries of the risk assessment. Determine what activities, processes, or areas will be evaluated to cover all relevant risks.
  • Resources: Identify the resources needed, such as time, money, and personnel. Adequate resources help make the risk assessment process thorough and effective.
  • Stakeholders: Involve those affected by the risk assessment, including employees, managers, and safety experts. Their input and cooperation are important for accurate risk analysis.
  • Laws and Regulations: Compliance with legal requirements, such as OSHA standards, is essential. OSHA risk assessments involve identifying workplace hazards, evaluating their impact on workers, and determining controls to minimize risks. Detailed record-keeping and regular reviews are required to stay compliant.

The risk assessment process can be conducted in 5 steps:

risk assessment process

1. Identify

Recognize potential hazards that could cause harm. This involves inspecting the workplace, consulting employees, and reviewing accident records. Identifying hazards is the first step in preventing incidents. It sets the foundation for the entire risk assessment process.

2. Evaluate

Assess the likelihood and severity of each identified hazard. This step helps prioritize risks based on their potential impact. Evaluating risks means addressing the most serious hazards first. It combines both qualitative and quantitative methods.

3. Choose Control Measures

Determine the best ways to eliminate or reduce risks. This might include changing work processes, providing safety equipment, or training employees. Control measures are selected based on their effectiveness and feasibility.

4. Document Findings

Record all identified hazards, evaluations, and control measures. Documentation provides a reference for future risk assessments and keeps everyone accountable. It includes detailed reports, checklists, and safety plans. Proper documentation is necessary for legal compliance and continuous improvement.

5. Review, Assess, or Update

Regularly revisit the risk assessment to keep it relevant and effective. Changes in the workplace or new information may require updates. Ongoing reviews help identify new risks and verify that existing controls are working. This step adapts safety practices to the evolving workplace.


Risk Assessment Tools

For a more efficient and effective risk assessment process, it is important to choose and apply the right risk assessment techniques, Some of the common risk assessment models used by various industries are listed below:

FMEA: Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA) identifies potential failure points in a process or product. It evaluates the impact of each failure mode and prioritizes them based on severity, occurrence, and detection. This risk assessment tool helps in preventing problems before they happen.

Bowtie Model: The Bowtie Model visualizes risk management by showing the relationship between potential causes and consequences of a risk. It highlights preventive and mitigative controls. This risk assessment model makes complex risks easier to understand and manage.

What-if Analysis: This risk assessment technique involves brainstorming potential scenarios and their outcomes. By asking "What if?" questions, teams can identify and address possible risks. It’s useful for uncovering unexpected hazards in various situations.

Failure Tree Analysis: Also known as Fault Tree Analysis, this risk assessment instrument uses a diagram to map out the pathways that can lead to failure. It helps in understanding the root causes of potential problems. This structured approach is valuable for complex systems.

Decision Tree: A Decision Tree is a graphical representation of possible solutions to a decision based on different conditions. It helps evaluate the risks and benefits of each option. This risk assessment tool is useful for making informed choices in uncertain situations.

HAZOP: Hazard and Operability Study (HAZOP) is a structured and systematic risk assessment technique for examining potential risks in processes. It involves a detailed review of process steps and identifying deviations that could lead to hazards. This tool is widely used in industries such as chemical and pharmaceuticals.

These risk assessment instruments are essential for conducting thorough risk analysis. Next, we will look at how to use a risk matrix, another important risk assessment tool.

Risk Matrix: How to Use It?

risk assessment matrix

A risk assessment matrix is a tool used to evaluate and prioritize risks based on their likelihood and severity (or impact). The matrix helps visualize risks, making it easier to decide which ones need immediate attention.

  • Likelihood: This measures how probable it is for a risk to occur.
  • Severity or Impact: This measures the potential consequences if the risk happens.

Using the risk assessment matrix involves three major steps:

  1. Identify Risks: List all potential risks and their possible causes.
  2. Evaluate Risks: Assess the likelihood and severity of each risk, and plot them on the matrix.
  3. Prioritize Risks: Use the matrix to determine which risks need urgent action based on their position in the matrix.

Risk Assessment Software

Risk assessment software is a digital tool designed to help organizations conduct, manage, and document their risk assessments more efficiently. It automates various parts of the risk assessment process, ensuring consistency and accuracy.

Benefits of using risk assessment software include:

  • Efficiency: Speeds up the assessment process by automating data collection and analysis.
  • Accuracy: Reduces human error by providing standardized methods and calculations.
  • Documentation: Keeps records organized and easily accessible for future reference or audits.

Examples of use include generating reports, tracking progress on risk mitigation measures, and sharing findings with stakeholders. This software is an important part of modern risk assessment tools, making the process more streamlined and effective.


Risk Assessment Training

Proper risk assessment training is important for making sure employees know how to identify and manage risks effectively. Training provides the knowledge and skills needed to conduct thorough risk assessments and use various risk assessment tools. It covers topics such as what is a risk assessment, how to perform risk analysis, and the steps involved in the risk assessment process.

Training sessions should include both theoretical and practical components. Theoretical training explains the principles behind risk assessment and the importance of identifying potential hazards. Practical training involves hands-on exercises where employees use risk assessment tools to evaluate real or simulated scenarios.

The role of risk managers is important in this training. They guide employees through the process, making sure they understand their responsibilities and the proper use of tools. Employees are responsible for applying this knowledge in their daily tasks, while employers must provide ongoing support and resources.

New technologies, such as virtual reality and simulation software, are also enhancing risk assessment training. These tools offer immersive learning experiences, allowing employees to practice identifying and handling risks in a controlled, virtual environment. This approach helps reinforce learning and improves overall safety practices.


Risk Assessment Template

A risk assessment template is a structured format used to document potential hazards, evaluate their risks, and outline measures to control them. It helps create a systematic approach to identifying and managing risks in the workplace. Using a template makes it easier to keep track of risks and the actions needed to address them.

Below is a sample risk assessment template.

Company Name: [Your Company Name]
Risk Assessment Conducted By: [Assessor's Name]
Date Conducted: [Assessment Date]
Date of Next Review: [Next Review Date]

Hazards Identified Who Might Be Harmed? How? Current Controls Additional Actions Required Responsible Person/s Deadline for Action Completion Status

This is just a sample risk assessment template. Always tailor it to meet the specific needs and requirements of your workplace.

Risk Assessment Example by Industry

Different industries use risk assessments to address their unique challenges and keep safety and efficiency high. Here are examples of how various sectors apply the risk assessment process and risk assessment tools.

Cybersecurity: In cybersecurity, risk assessment helps identify and manage potential threats to information systems. For example, a company might use a risk assessment matrix to evaluate the likelihood and impact of data breaches. This helps prioritize actions to strengthen security measures and protect sensitive information.

Health: The health industry uses risk assessments to keep patients and staff safe. For instance, hospitals conduct specific assessments to identify hazards such as infection risks. By using a risk assessment template, they can document and control these risks, creating a safer environment for everyone.

Project Management: In project management, risk assessments help foresee potential problems that could impact project success. For example, a project manager might use a Decision Tree to evaluate the risks of different project paths. This helps in choosing the best course of action and reducing potential issues.

Environment & Climate: The environmental sector uses risk assessments to address hazards related to climate change and environmental impact. An example would be assessing the risk of flooding in a particular area using historical data and predictive models. This helps in planning and putting effective mitigation strategies in place.

Business & Finance: In business and finance, risk assessments identify and manage financial risks. For instance, a financial institution might use risk assessment tools like FMEA to evaluate the risk of investment losses. This helps in making smart decisions and safeguarding assets.

These risk assessment examples highlight the importance of adapting the risk assessment process to fit the specific needs of each industry.


Risk Assessment FAQs

What do you need to use when identifying, analyzing, and minimizing risk?

When identifying, analyzing, and minimizing risk, you need a combination of risk assessment tools, expert input, and historical data. Tools like the risk assessment matrix, FMEA, and Bowtie Model help to systematically evaluate risks and decide on the best actions to mitigate them.

What is risk analysis?

Risk analysis is the process of determining how likely it is for a risk to arise and assessing its potential impact. It involves evaluating both the probability of the risk occurring and the severity of its consequences to prioritize which risks need to be addressed first​.

What are the 4 C's risk assessment?

The 4 C's risk assessment refers to Competence, Control, Communication, and Cooperation. These elements ensure that all aspects of safety are covered by making sure employees are skilled, risks are controlled, communication is clear, and everyone works together to manage risks effectively​.

How to prepare a risk assessment?

To prepare a risk assessment, start by identifying potential hazards in the workplace. Next, evaluate the risks associated with these hazards, decide on control measures to reduce or eliminate the risks, document your findings, and regularly review and update the assessment as needed​.

What are the three types of risk analysis?

The three main types of risk analysis are qualitative, quantitative, and hybrid. Qualitative risk analysis uses expert judgment to assess risks, quantitative risk analysis uses numerical data and models to predict risks, and hybrid risk analysis combines elements of both to provide a comprehensive evaluation.

What are the 4 stages of risk analysis?

The four stages of risk analysis are identifying risks, analyzing risks, evaluating risks, and treating risks. These stages involve recognizing potential hazards, assessing their impact and likelihood, prioritizing them, and implementing measures to manage or mitigate the risks.

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The material provided in this article is for general information purposes only. It is not intended to replace professional/legal advice or substitute government regulations, industry standards, or other requirements specific to any business/activity. While we made sure to provide accurate and reliable information, we make no representation that the details or sources are up-to-date, complete or remain available. Readers should consult with an industrial safety expert, qualified professional, or attorney for any specific concerns and questions.


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Author: Herbert Post

Born in the Philadelphia area and raised in Houston by a family who was predominately employed in heavy manufacturing. Herb took a liking to factory processes and later safety compliance where he has spent the last 13 years facilitating best practices and teaching updated regulations. He is married with two children and a St Bernard named Jose. Herb is a self-described compliance geek. When he isn’t studying safety reports and regulatory interpretations he enjoys racquetball and watching his favorite football team, the Dallas Cowboys.