How to manage the health and safety risks in your pharmacy

Health and safety risk assessment is not a phrase that fills many pharmacists with excitement. But health and safety law applies to all businesses so pharmacies have to comply.

The basic aim of health and safety law is obvious: to prevent people from being harmed or becoming ill through work. The difficulty is translating this into practice. The good news is that a wealth of information exists to help employers implement health and safety law.

The legal requirements are laid out in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. What these regulations mean in practice is explained by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the Government body which enforces health and safety regulations in Great Britain.

The HSE says that employers must make the workplace safe, ensure safe systems of work are followed, and provide information and training about health and safety. The key to delivering this is carrying out a health and safety risk assessment. 

Risk assessment

Risk assessments are designed to take a thorough look at the workplace and its working practices to assess if anything presents a risk to people. Undertaking a risk assessment is a legal requirement for every employer and, if the business has five or more employees, the findings must be written down.

Specific information about pharmacy risk assessment is available from the National Pharmacy Association. Ruth Wakeman, NPA information department manager, says that the NPA has produced a guide to risk management. It includes not just health and safety risk assessment, but also clinical risk assessment (which is not tackled in this article). “It translates information about risk management into practical advice for community pharmacists with real-life examples from pharmacies,” she explains.

The HSE provides a five-step plan to risk assessment and its recommendations are summarised below. 

Step one: identify the hazards Identifying the hazards involves physically walking around the workplace to identify anything that might cause harm. Hazards can also be identified by looking at lists of hazards on the HSE website, by asking employees what they think, and by examining the workplace accident records.

Examples of hazards in pharmacies include liquid spills, lifting heavy items, tripping over stock boxes, use of step ladders, violence towards staff and handling chemicals.

Step two: decide who might be harmed and how For each hazard identified, the people who might be harmed must be listed. For example, if lifting heavy boxes is identified as a hazard then the people who might be harmed could be shop assistants or delivery drivers. Within this section, special attention needs to be given to people with particular needs like pregnant women or people with disabilities. This is important because if an employee’s circumstances change, the risk assessment must be reviewed for that individual. 

Step three: evaluate the risks and decide on precautions The third step is about taking action — deciding what to do about the hazards that the assessment has identified. According to the HSE, “the law does not expect you to eliminate all risk but you are required to protect people as far as ‘reasonably practical’.”

This means that the hazard should either be removed or, if this is not possible, then its risk should be minimised. This could be achieved by, for example, changing a procedure to a less risky option, preventing access to a hazard, or issuing protective equipment.

In a pharmacy, a potential hazard might be tripping over boxes. Ways to minimise this risk include better housekeeping, creating a specific storage area and training staff on the importance of keeping walkways clear. 

Step four: record your findings and implement them Recording the findings of the assessment and the action taken is essential for any employer with more than five employees and is generally the easiest way to demonstrate that a risk assessment has been undertaken.

An example of a record might be: “Hazard: tripping over boxes. Action: specific area designated for storing boxes, staff instructed, process checked weekly”.

Step five: review your assessment and update if necessary Risk management is an ongoing process. An annual review of the risk assessment is needed to ensure it is up to date, ie, any new equipment or procedures should be assessed.

Risk management is clearly essential but, according to the Health and Safety Commission it does not have to be over-bureaucratic or cumbersome. Its chairman, Bill Callaghan says: “Our approach is to seek a balance between the unachievable aim of absolute safety and the kind of poor management of risk that damages lives and the economy.”

Further information

Further information can be obtained from the websites listed below.

Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

Health and Safety Executive:
• Getting started on health and safety
• Risk management
(including how to carry out a risk assessment and hazard lists for different workplaces)

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, August 2007;()::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2021.1.69845

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