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How can risk assessments make you a better contractor?

Not everyone is a fan of extra paperwork, especially if you’re a contractor working on potentially small jobs with a fast turnaround. But having full and valid risk assessment/method statements (RAMS) is essential for good business – it is also a legal requirement if you employ more than 5 people.

What does a risk assessment involve?

A risk assessment is an examination of all work activities, work equipment, people and processes used to carry out a particular job. It allows you to identify hazards associated with your work and the risks a job poses to yourself and the public. Ultimately, they help to ensure safe working practices.

Why are risk assessments necessary for contractors?

As a contractor, these are your four key reasons to carry out risk assessments:

  1. Legal compliance
    Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 , Sections 2 and 3, you have a legal duty to protect your employees and others from risks posed by your work.[1] If something goes wrong, or if the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) find that you do not have a valid risk assessment, you could be subjected to penalties of Fees for Intervention (£154/per hour) as part of their enforcement process. And, if the incident investigation advances to a prosecution, there’s a risk of unlimited fines, or even up to two years in prison if successfully prosecuted.[2]
  2. Moral obligation
    As a contractor, it is your moral duty to identify dangers and hazards associated by your work, in order to prevent or minimise risk to your employees and others. If you are found to have caused harm knowingly or through professional negligence you could be found guilty of gross negligence. (In an instance resulting in death, manslaughter as a result of gross negligence carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.)[3]
  3. Reputation
    Having a reputation for carrying out and acting on your risk assessments gives your business a competitive edge. From a client viewpoint, your ability to manage possible hazards may even prove more important than a competitive price. By demonstrating responsible working practices, your business will be able to build a reliable reputation, consistent clientele, return business and ultimately better profits.
  4. Insurance
    By making your working standards more robust, risk assessments could also help to lower your insurance premiums. By proving your capability to identify and manage risks (keeping claims to a minimum) your contractors' insurance premiums will likely lower as a result.

RAMS: creating an effective method statement

A method statement is used to outline the dangers/hazards identified through your risk assessment. It sets out how you intend to avoid or minimise identified risks. It is your responsibility to ensure that your work is reasonably practical. It’s also in your interest to make sure your method statement is clear and understandable. That way, your clients can feel more confident in your ability to manage potential risks.

Follow these simple steps to make sure your method statement is both practical and effective.

  • Don’t overcomplicate

Your RAMS should outline your safety precautions to the client. They should also communicate to your workforce all the things they need to do to keep themselves and other people in the vicinity safe.

However, RAMS are not expected to cover every eventuality. You can only be held accountable for what are considered to be reasonably foreseeable risks.

  • Follow through

Remember, by providing your clients with RAMS, you are agreeing a certain set of working standards. Clients will expect to see these precautions in place for the length of your contract. If they discover that you or your workforce are failing to comply with the terms of your RAMS, they may put a stop to your work. 

  • Document everything

Even though by law, you don’t need to record RAMS if you employ less than five people, if something went wrong, verbal agreements between parties are rarely enough.

In a court, the HSE will expect you to be able to provide proof of working methods and safety procedures. It is therefore essential that all RAMS are documented. This provides a fail-safe way to back up your methods for legal purposes.

  • Remember to re-evaluate

RAMS are only valid for the length of the job or task that is being done. However, if something significantly changes in the way the job is being carried out, then you would have to reassess and create another RAMS.

This also applies to ‘dynamic risk assessments’. For example, as an electrical contractor, you might have a dynamic risk assessment for rewiring a house. However, if the house is an older property, with original electrical wiring, perhaps including Asbestos, this would increase the risks. Therefore, a generic risk assessment may not be sufficient.

Unsure about your RAMS?

Effective RAMS require a certain amount of experience within your organisation in order to predict reasonable risk. They can prove invaluable to you and your business, so it’s worth making sure they are done correctly.

For smaller organisations or individual contractors, it can be helpful to have someone beside you for support. Appointing a risk consultant to act as your advisor will give more confidence in your legal compliance.


[1] https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1974/37

[2] http://www.hse.gov.uk/enforce/enforcementguide/court/sentencing-penalties.htm

[3] https://app.croneri.co.uk/feature-articles/gross-negligence-manslaughter 

David Logan
David is part of the Risk Management division at Marsh Commercial, serving as a Health and Safety consultant, based within the Glasgow office. An integral part of the Risk Management team, David services clients all throughout the UK. He also provides advice and consultancy on a range of Risk Management and Health and Safety related topics to a wide variety of industry sectors.