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Risk Assessment for Science and Engineering (part 2)

In terms of health and safety legislation, although there are many pieces of statute, (some of which are given in the slide below), the common denominator is that all require some form of risk assessment.

Well planned research should identify hazards, evaluate risks and should introduce controls to bring the risks down to an acceptable level. This should ideally reduce the risk to zero, but it is recognised that this is not always possible, so other controls, preferably those that do not rely on human intervention should be implemented prior to reliance on human behaviour.

Where the risks are considered ‘significant’ there must be documentation that verifies what is required to be put into place, how the work will be conducted, by who and where, and suitable records should be maintained as appropriate. Your Department may have their own preferred method for recording this where this applies. Departmental, Local Rules or standard procedures already in place should initially be checked to verify if these are already sufficient before generating any new documentation. If they are, then simply reference to these whilst ensuring that you and/or the students are following the necessary precautions would be appropriate. If not, then it would be expected for written information to be prepared and agreed by you as Research Supervisor.


Reading around the subject and learning from what research has gone before should help you and your students establish what is already known, even in areas that are new and novel. It is important to establish any gaps in knowledge before the practical research starts and start small, to gather information and gain confidence that the risk controls are sufficient and that the methodology is appropriate. Thought should go into any hazards introduced and those that could arise as a consequence of the research during ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ or emergency situations or when taking the research to the point of failure if this is relevant.

It is important to ratify if anything specific applies to the field of research you are working in and to assess the impact of this.

  • There will be a lot of research in the Science and Engineering departments that will also or solely involve working with a computer and for guidance on how to work comfortable with a computer, laptop or other monitor, reference to 'Computer Workstations' should be made. Students similarly should use this guidance to help them to set up their workstations, chairs and accessories correctly.
  • Where the research involves chemicals, then the COSHH Regulations will apply and suitable consideration should be paid to the safe storage, handling, use, transportation and disposal of the materials to ensure that they do not cause damage or harm.
  • If the research involves use of equipment or machinery, then PUWER will apply, but so too could other more specific legislation such as LOLER (lifting operations and lifting equipment), pressure equipment, electricity at work, noise/vibration, artificial optical radiation (lasers), radiation, etc.
  • As a Research Supervisor you should also pay due consideration to ensure that persons under your control who have a pre-existing medical condition or who are pregnant or breastfeeding are not put at risk by virtue of the work they or others are doing or proposing to do.

Well planned and risk assessed research will more than likely already meet the requirements of many pieces of legislation, however there will be some specifics that will require a further evaluation of risk and these should be identified at the planning stage, seeking the advice of perhaps other Research Supervisors, Technicians or an Advisor from the Health and Safety Department as appropriate.