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Identify the Hazards

Hazards - those things which could cause harm to people -  fall into a number of broad categories:

Physical hazards.  These are the most common types of hazard, being objects and 'things' that have the potential to cause harm. Examples:

  • Things that could cause slips and trips, such as loose carpets and ice;
  • Ladders, where someone might fall from height while working;
  • Electrical hazards, such as damaged equipment or wiring;
  • Equipment hazards, such as rotating machinery;
  • Noisy equipment, sound systems and similar;
  • Items that get hot or cold such as ovens and freezers; and
  • Objects with sharp edges, such as knives or broken glass;

Environmental hazards.  These are hazards associated with the surroundings.  Examples:

  • Extremes of heat and cold (which may be caused by poor heating and ventilation or weather conditions);
  • Poor lighting, and
  • Weather conditions such as rain and snow.

Chemical hazards.  These are as a result of the chemical properties of materials being used.  Examples:

  • Cleaning fluids that might be irritant or corrosive;
  • Paints and thinners used in building maintenance works; and
  • Fuels and oils used for lawnmowers and similar equipment.

Biological hazards.  These hazards are to do with viruses, bacteria and moulds that could cause illness.  Examples:

  • Legionella from water systems; and
  • Infections and disease caused by exposure to animal or bird droppings;

Note: most ordinary, non-work related illnesses, such as the common cold, do not usually need to be assessed as they are associated with normal, daily life. 

Psychological hazards.  These hazards are associated with people.  Examples:

  • Errors of judgement, mistakes and lapses of concentration;
  • Tiredness or fatigue;
  • Stress;
  • Violence or threats of violence; and
  • Harassment and bullying.

Premises, Fittings and Fixtures

One of the main Risk Assessments is that of the hazards in and around the building(s) owned by the organisation.  All parts of the land and the building(s) or premises on that land need to be considered.

Walk around the premises and look out for hazards that could foreseeably cause harm to people.

There are a number of ways to do this hazard identification but the overall aim is to discover what could cause harm to people and where these are.  Sometimes a map or a plan (even a simple sketch) can help - hazards can be added on as notes to the document for easy reference later on.

Some hazards may only be apparent in some conditions, such as at night-time, when there are large numbers of people present or during certain adverse weather conditions.  It is worthwhile thinking back over times when there has been extremely bad weather,  when there has been a power failure or during other unusual conditions.

Some areas of the premises may be infrequently visited, such as boiler rooms, and these must not be left out of the assessment.  In fact, these areas often provide the largest number of hazards as they are 'out of sight and out of mind'.

In larger premises, it pays to split down the Risk Assessment into a number of smaller assessments each covering a separate area.  For example, a separate assessment can be done for the ground floor, the first floor, the offices and the Sunday school room.

These hazards are then used in the remainder of the assessment process.


It is also necessary to consider the activities and events held by the organisation, both routine and non-routine.  Some examples are:

  • Normal Sunday services;
  • Weekday bible studies and prayer meetings;
  • Choir rehearsals and musician's practices;
  • Minibus transport for the elderly members of the congregation;
  • Luncheon Clubs and Sales;
  • Community events;
  • Activities away from the premises, such as Sunday School trips;
  • Activities in the grounds of premises, such as burials;
  • Special services, such as Carol Services and Easter services which are more widely attended than others through the year;
  • Maintenance works to premises and fittings/fixtures and building activities; and
  • Open days and tower visits.

The above is not an exhaustive list and it is important to think through your programme of activities, services and events.  You do not have to do a separate assessment for each one if they can be logically grouped together.

Hopefully, the premises assessment should have considered the majority of issues that affect the activities.  If a hazard has already been considered and the assessment is valid for the activity, no further assessment or duplication of work is needed.

Sometimes, it helps to break down something into a number of smaller, more manageable chunks.  For example, taking the Sunday School from the church to the local park involves walking down the road which can be considered as one group of hazards.  On entering the park, there may be activities planned which need to be assessed as a second group, and so on. 

Tips on how to find hazards

One of the main ways to identify hazards is simply to look around the premises and observe activities and events.  However, there are some other helpful ways to identify hazards, including:

  • Understanding what has caused an injury or illness previously - take a look at injury records or investigations and speak with others who may know past incidents;
  • Looking at any previous assessments or inspections that might be been documented;
  • Looking at service and test records for boilers, electrical wiring and similar equipment;
  • Reading the 5-yearly fabric report, for those premises where this is carried out;
  • Reviewing the instructions provided by manufacturer of a piece of equipment or a product in use;
  • Reviewing any guidance provided by your insurer;
  • Reading 'Material Safety Data Sheets' provided with chemicals and substances; and
  • Asking others for their input, such as Sunday School leaders when doing the assessment for the Sunday School activities.

There are, however, some common pitfalls:

  1. Identifying the task rather than the hazards associated with the task.  In the section above, where the Sunday School are walking from the church to the park - the hazard is not 'Walking down the road', rather it is things like 'Traffic' and 'Uneven Surfaces' which are the hazards that may be encountered. 
  2. Identifying the outcome, rather than the hazard.  For example, cuts to the hand could be caused by a sharp knife in the kitchen.  'Cuts' are not the hazard, but a possible outcome when using the sharp knife (the hazard).
  3. Concentrating on trivial matters rather than the significant issues.  Much of this comes with experience (and to some extent training helps with this) but it's acceptable not to think too much about hazards that may be encountered in daily life as these can get in the way of thinking about actual issues that need to be thought about.

What about fire hazards?

Although fire can be included in the list of hazards, a separate process called Fire Risk Assessment is used.  This considers what could ignite a fire, what could catch fire and the sources of oxygen that can allow fire to burn as well as how a fire could affect people in or near the premises and the effectiveness of fire precautions.

It isn't wrong to include fire hazards when assessing the risk using this process, but it is commonplace to consider fire in the Fire Risk Assessment - duplication of work is not necessary.

Next Stage: Who could be harmed and how?

Back to Risk Assessment

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