Risk Assessments





What is a risk assessment?

Risk assessments are a structured way of thinking about how to manage danger and keep safe. They are used to systematically assess what could cause harm in a process or situation, what the risk of that harm being realised is, what you could do to reduce that risk and what you can do if something goes wrong.


What’s the difference between a hazard and a risk?

A hazard is a potential source of harm. For example, lead is a hazard; exposure to it is harmful to your health. A risk is the likelihood of that potential for harm being realised. For example, it’s a bigger risk to use lead cutlery than it is to use lead-acid batteries.


How to complete the Health and Safety Questionnaire

Oxford SU, in collaboration with the University’s Health and Safety Office and the Proctors’ Office, have created a Health and Safety Questionnaire for all non-sports student clubs, publications and societies to fill out annually. Click here to access the form online, or here to download a printable copy.

The questionnaire will ask you about what kind of activities your club, publication or society usually undertakes. If you complete the online version, the information will be sent to Oxford SU and the Proctors’ Office automatically. If you complete a paper copy, you should include it in the paperwork that you send to the Proctors Office when you register or re-register.


How to complete a risk assessment outside normal activities

If you are planning something outside of your club, publication or society’s normal activities, like a trip abroad or a ball, it’s important to complete a risk assessment as part of your preparation. Follow these steps, recording your answers.

Step 1: Identify what the hazards are.

Think about what your club, publication or society is planning to do. What could be a hazard?

Step 2: Identify who the hazards might impact.

Who could be hurt by the hazards you’ve recorded? Think as broadly as possible, and remember that the hazards might have different risks for different groups.

Step 3: Evaluate the risk of each hazard.

For each hazard, assess the risk. Risk is a combination of what the consequences will be if a hazard is realised and how likely it is to occur. A hazard is high risk if it’s consequences are severe and the likelihood of it happening is high.

Step 4: Assess where the risk could be reduced.

Where you have identified a risk, especially a moderate or high risk, think about what you could do to control or reduce it.

Step 5: Consider what you’ll do if the hazard is realised anyway.

Unfortunately, you can’t remove risk completely. Think about what you will you do if someone gets hurt, and make sure you know who you can contact in an emergency.


Reducing and controlling risk

There are lots of different approaches to reducing a risk. You can try to change the hazard, by eliminating, replacing or isolating it. You can change what you’re doing in response to the hazard, by introducing new working practices or behaviours, or you can use specific safety equipment to protect yourself. Usually, you’ll want to use a combination of measures to control the risks you’re exposed to.

For example, imagine you’re in charge of organising the table decorations for a dinner. You were planning on using tealights, and have identified that they are a possible fire hazard because of the naked flame.

  1. Can you eliminate the hazard and thereby remove the risk? E.g. Using a different kind of lighting instead, such as fake LED candles, would eliminate the flame hazard.
  2. If you can’t eliminate the hazard, can you substitute it for something less risky? E.g. Floating candles are generally considered the safest type of candle.
  3. If you can’t eliminate or substitute the hazard, can you isolate it? E.g. Placing the tealights inside closed lanterns and making sure that the tablecloths were non-flammable would isolate the flame hazard.
  4. If you can’t eliminate, substitute or isolate the hazard, can you change what you’re doing to reduce the risk? E.g. Ensuring that the tealights were never left unattended.
  5. If you can’t change what you’re doing, can you protect yourself? E.g. Having a fire extinguisher on site.

What you decide to do will depend on what fits your situation best, and what you think an appropriate level of risk is. You might decide to do something different depending on whether you’re using paper tablecloths, serving alcohol or already own decorative lanterns from last year’s event. Remember that the further down the hierarchy you go, the less adequate the safety measures are – for example, not leaving tealights unattended means you’ll probably notice and be able to evacuate safely should a fire start, but it won’t reduce the burn risk of people accidentally touching the flame.


Example and template Risk Assessment

Links to further information and additional resources

University Safety Office


Health and welfare


Risk Management Tools – Health and Safety Executive


Check out the Health and Safety Executive’s website for lots more guidance and advice on how to manage risk, including example risk assessments.

Safer journey planner

Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents


If you’re worried about driver fatigue, the RoSPA produce a guide about planning your drives to reduce the risk.

Fire safety advice - Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service


If you’re concerned about fires, Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service publish advice and guidance on their website.