UCL Department of Chemical Engineering


Risk Assessments

This page aims to help develop skills and knowledge for making a good risk assessment. Also stored on this page are generic departmental risk assessments.

Departmental Risk Assessments

Below you will find the generic departmental risk assessments. Please copy, reference, and use the hazards / controls from them for your personal risk assessments where you wish.

General High Hazards in Chemical Engineering Risk Assessment (RA044624/3)

This risk assessment details the high hazards in the department, along with what the general controls that should be in place for them. 

It also details the minimum actions that should take place for competency to be achieved on a specific hazard. Managers / Supervisors should assess each of their individual direct reports to check if they are competent at the work they are doing and are able to work alone on it.

By necessity it is general; however, please use and adapt the controls for personal project risk assessments.

General Event Risk Assessment

This risk assessment details the hazards and controls for general in person events that may be hosted in the department. 

At a minimum, the controls used in this risk assessment should be established in all events where appropriate. If the event has additional hazards, e.g. lab demonstrations, a new risk assessment should be created, referencing this risk assessment. 

Note: the assessment will soon be refreshed to include the hazards and controls related to lab tours.

General Travel Risk Assessment

This risk assessment provides a general travel risk assessment for travel from the department to other universities or institutions, in the UK and abroad. 

To come soon.

If there are additional hazards, e.g. hosted research, then these should be covered by a dedicated risk assessment. You can place your name is the distribution list to receive a copy of the risk assessment.

How to write a good Risk Assessment

This section on the webpage will detail how to write a good risk assessment and will hopefully develop skills in thinking about the hazards present and controls that can be established.


Identifying what the Hazards, Harms, and Risks of a process or experiment are key elements of a risk assessment. These terms often get confused between each other.

  • Harm: A harm is usually describes as an injury, ill-health, or damage. This can be to a person, piece of equipment, or a building.
  • Hazard: A hazard is anything that has the potential to cause harm.
  • Risk: Risk is the likelihood and severity of that harm.

For example:

  • Having poor posture when lifting a heavy load would be a hazard. The harm would be back or neck pain. Handling heavy or awkward load at high frequencies would increase the risk of pains developing.
  • A corrosive liquid is a hazard. The harm could be a chemical burn, but using the correct gloves or a less corrosive chemical would reduce the risk of the chemical burn happening

Likewise, often the terms Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), and Risk Assessment get confused.

  • MSDS: Every commercial chemical should have a MSDS. It details the hazards of the chemical, often in H (hazard) and P (precaution) numbers, so that hazards can be easily identifiable. It will also detail First Aid, Spill / Accidental Release, and Fire Fighting measures, as well as how to store the chemical and how to dispose of it. All of these parameters and measures must also be included in project risk assessments. However, it must be noted that unless otherwise stated most MSDS detail the hazards according to if the chemical is being used on an industrial scale. For lab work, the effects may be reduced but still potent.
  • SOP: An SOP is a set of instructions which must be followed to follow good practice. Though they may include steps to implement control measures, they cannot be used in place of a risk assessments. This is because an SOP can only be written after a risk assessment has been completed.
  • Risk Assessment: A risk assessment is a way to analyse a task for all the hazards that may occur, think about who might be harmed, how they might be harmed, and the ways or controls of reducing the likelihood or risk of the harm happening. The findings are then recorded and distributed to the people that may be affected by the hazards. Risk assessments are carried out by everyone all the time.

For example:

  • Every time you cross the road you are carrying out a risk assessment. You will analyse the hazard, a moving car or bicycle, and calculate the risk of crossing the road based on if there are traffic lights present, how fast the vehicles are moving, etc. 
What to consider in a Risk Assessment

There are four key elements in a risk assessment: 

  • Identifying the hazards. These could be flammable gases, slippery floors, dust, trailing cables, loud noises, items stored at height, etc. 
  • Determining the people that might be affected. Not only must the user be considered, but also cleaners, contractors, visitors, or fellow lab / office users. For instance, overfilling waste containers could put contractors at risk, while storing heavy items at heights puts other office users at risk.
  • Evaluating the risks of the hazards. Sometimes things are only a hazard or more of a hazard in certain situations. If a flammable chemical is used in an empty fume cupboard, the risk would be low. However, if it is used in the same fume cupboard as an open flame, this is a very high risk.  
  • Establishing the control measures that should be used to reduce the risk. These should focus on the most effective ways to reduce the hazard, then moving to the least effective. This is outlined in the hierarchy of control measures below.
Using the Hierarchy of Control Measures

When controlling the risk, there is a reverse pyramid from the most to least effective controls that should be followed.

  • Elimination: This involves removing the hazard altogether, which is the most effective way of reducing the risk of harm. For instance, by buying a chemical instead of synthesising it, or removing trailing cables in an office if they are not needed, removes the hazardous process altogether,
  • Substitution: This involves replacing the hazard for a less hazardous thing. For example, if the experiment does not need a high class laser, consider exchanging to a lower class laser which is less likely to cause harm. 
  • Engineering controls: This involves removing people and items from the hazard. In a lot of cases this is as simple as using a Fume Cupboard to vent harmful chemicals or using a shield to avoid fingers getting caught in a piece of machinery.
  • Administrative Controls: This is about changing the way people work. For instance, making sure there are safe procedures to follow, and people are trained or only do work alone once deemed competent.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): PPE only protects the wearing, no one else in the lab, which is why it is the least effective control. Priority must be giving to the other controls in order to prevent hazards. Examples of PPE include safety goggles / spectacles, lab coats, and gloves. Specialised ifielsed PPE may be needed, for example a flame resistant lab coat might be needed if working with flammables. 

Hierachy of Control Measures
Items to Consider in a Risk Rssessment.

There are a lot of items that should be considered for a risk assessment: 

  • Will a non-standard Fire Extinguisher be needed nearby? Some materials including lithium might need a specialised fire extinguisher. 
  • Will non-standard First Aid Training or Equipment be needed? Additionally is current First Aid Training adequate? Some chemicals, including Hydrofluoric Acid (HF) need specialised first aid kits and training. 
  • Will non-standard PPE be required? Nitrile gloves do not protect against all chemicals. Other types of gloves include butyl and neoprene which might be more effective to barrier certain chemicals. Information on the appropriate gloves to use can be found in an MSDS. 
  • Can anything be done to reduce the likelihood of spills? For example, can the volumes used be reduced, can the transfer distance be reduced, can equipment (e.g. trolleys) be used to transfer the material. 
  • What are the spill procedures? Not all materials have the same spill procedures. For example, you should not sweep up nanomaterials before first ensuring they are dowsed in water. This information can be found in a materials MSDS.
  • Ensure that there is enough detail in the risk assessment. ‘Store properly’ vs ‘Store the bottle in a dark cabinet’ / ‘Use gloves’ vs ‘Use butyl gloves to handle X chemical’ / ‘Use Fire Extinguisher’ vs ‘Use Water Mist Fire Extinguisher located in corridor next to LB21’.
  • Do not just copy and paste things from different documents. Just listing out the H and P statements from an MSDS without looking at them does not help anyone. 
  • The control measures must be realistic, clear, and applicable to the scale of the hazard. For instance, it would not be necessary to use a fume cupboard to make a 1 M solution of citric acid or sodium hydroxide. Equally, you should not put that you are going to use a full face mask to handle the chemical if there is not one available. 
How to Make a Risk Assessment

At UCL all risk assessments must be made and stored using the riskNET tool.

  • Avoid using templates or just copying other risk assessments. It is better to make specific assessments from scratch, while using other assessments as a reference. 
  • Describe what the process is in detail, including all the steps. This will ensure help capture the risks associated with each step of the process.
  • Risk assessments are best done collaboratively. Others can draw on experience and knowledge top help capture all the hazards and explore different control measures. 
  • Distribute the risk assessment to the correct people. Think about cleaners, contractors, visitor, and other lab users. Some experiments may need experimental cards or emergency shut down procedures if run overnight. 
When to Review a Risk Assessment

Risk Assessments are usually valid for one year, or less if it is a process is likely to be need review soon (e.g. a high risk experiment). They must be updated when:

  • There has been an accident / incident. Lessons learned from accidents must be used to adapt risk assessments with additional control measures. For instance, if fitting tubing onto a glass piece of equipment often causes it to break, then using wider tubing might be appropriate to prevent sharp hazards.
  • Something is found out about the process that was not known before. For example, if analysis reveals that acids that could etch their container are produced from an experiment, the process must be updated along with the risk assessment. 
  • If anything changes about the process. This includes if a different but similar material is used, or if there is a large scale up. Depending on the material, using 1.1 mL of a chemical instead of 1 mL would be OK; however, using 10 mL instead would require a new risk assessment, as this is an order of magnitude different.

This is why it is good to plan risk assessments so that they encompass a large amount of considerations / controls and do not have to be updated regularly.