EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Risk assessment

Risk assessment is defined by the European Commission in its guidance on risk assessment at work as the process of evaluating the risk to the health and safety of workers while at work arising from the circumstances of the occurrence of a hazard at the workplace. The guidance states that employers have a general duty to ensure the health and safety of workers.

The purpose of carrying out a risk assessment is to enable the employer to effectively take the measures necessary to protect the health and safety of its workers. These measures include:

  • prevention of occupational risks;
  • provision of information to workers;
  • provision of training to workers and the organisation’s management;
  • the means to implement the necessary measures.

The guidance recognises that, while the purpose of risk assessment includes the prevention of occupational risks, this will not always be achievable in practice. However, risks should be reduced and any residual risk controlled.

Overall, European labour law on health and safety is characterised by its emphasis on the anticipation of risk, rather than on protection against danger once risks have materialised. A crucial factor is the identification and assessment of hazards, with responsibility for the control of these hazards. Article 6 of Directive 89/391/EEC on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the health and safety of workers at work lays down the steps to be taken by employers to ensure adequate risk prevention and risk assessment at the workplace. According to Article 6, a risk assessment should:

  • identify any significant risks arising out of work;
  • enable the employer to identify and prioritise the measures that need to be taken to comply with the relevant statutory provision;
  • be appropriate to the nature of the work and such that it remains valid for a reasonable period of time.

The European Agency for Health and Safety at Work (EU-OSHA) offers a free online risk assessment tool called OiRA. This offers a step-by-step approach to the risk assessment process, beginning with the identification of workplace risks. It then takes the user through the process of implementing preventive actions and finally to monitoring and reporting risks.

See also: dangerous substances; Framework Directive on Health and Safety; health and safety; occupational accidents and diseases; stress at work.

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