Inland water environments are extremely varied, with numerous different uses. Some are used as venues to cater for the growing list of open water activities. Some are simple attenuation (SuDs) ponds used to address drainage needs on developed land. It might be a duck pond or a stretch of river. It could be a 20-mile length of coast or a small harbour. If you have a body of water on the land you own or manage, you have a duty to ensure the safety of staff members, visitors, and members of the public (including trespassers!). Whether or not you encourage people to enjoy the water on your land, you are required to assess the potential risks.

Water safety affects numerous industries, from schools, estate management companies, local authorities, and land development agencies. Conducting a Water Safety Risk Assessment should be considered to ensure a safe environment and compliance with legal regulations.

Why do I need a Water Safety Risk Assessment?

A Water Safety Risk Assessment is needed for several reasons:

  1. Legal compliance: Regulation 3 of the Managing Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 places a legal duty on employers to conduct risk assessments; this includes identifying and managing risks associated with bodies of water on any premises. Non-compliance can lead to legal consequences, including fines and even prison time. Demonstrating due diligence by conducting a Water Safety Risk Assessment can help reduce liability in the event of an accident or incident, demonstrating that you have taken all reasonably practicable steps to prevent harm.
  2. Preventing accidents: Bodies of water can pose a serious risk, including drowning. A Water Safety Risk Assessment helps to identify potential hazards and implement control measures to prevent accidents.
  3. Protecting lives: Ensuring the safety of employees, visitors, or the public is not only a legal requirement but an ethical one. Conducting risk assessments is essential for safeguarding lives.
  4. Understand what control measures will mitigate risk: Creating a suitable and sufficient Water Safety Risk Assessment will inform what control measures need to be implemented to mitigate the risk posed by the water.


 Those completing Water Safety Risk Assessments should be deemed competent.

This means that the assessor should have the following:

  • Appropriate skills
  • Appropriate knowledge
  • Technical proficiency
  • Suitable experience

Am I doing enough to keep those I am responsible for safe in, on, or around water?

What should I have in place? Do I need to do more? If you’ve asked yourself these questions, complete this short quiz to check where your water safety provision is now, where it should be and what it will take to get there.

Contents of an Open Water Safety Risk Assessment

A risk assessment is a process of identifying what could cause harm (hazard) and finding a way (control measure) to reduce the likelihood (risk) of an accident happening.

  • A Hazard – something with the potential to cause harm 
  • A Risk – how likely harm will be caused.
  • Control Measure(s) put in place to prevent a hazard from causing harm.

Defining something as high, medium, or low risk is done by considering the likelihood and consequence of each risk. This can be done by utilising a risk assessment matrix. By rating risk levels from high to low, you can focus attention on the most significant and urgent threats.

A table to show the impact and likelihood of risks from low to high.

The contents of your Water Safety Risk Assessment will depend on the site-specific hazards. A risk assessment at one site will not be suitable for a different site (don’t copy and paste!). As an example, this could look like:

Open Water Drowning  Install Rescue Equipment as recommended

Section 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 states that risk assessments should be reviewed if:

  1. There is reason to suspect that it is no longer valid, or
  2. There has been a significant change in the matters to which it relates.

Using RLSS UK to Carry Out Your Water Safety Risk Assessment

You might want to consider using an external, expert consultancy service for a few reasons:

  1. Specialised Knowledge: RLSS UK possesses specialised knowledge and experience that has developed over our 130+ year history, ensuring a robust and accurate assessment of water safety risks. Water environments have specific risks that a general health and safety professional might not be competent in assessing.
  2. Objective Assessment: RLSS UK  will provide an objective and impartial assessment, free from internal biases, leading to a more accurate risk assessment.
  3. In-the-know: RLSS UK is partnered and works closely with other industry experts and regulatory bodies, such as RoSPA, the RNLI, The Institute of Swimming, and the National Water Safety Forum, keeping us at the forefront of water safety innovations and knowledge.
  4. Regulatory Compliance: Our advice is UK law and legislation-driven, backed by industry guidance and knowledge of best practices.
  5. Commercially aware: We will recommend control measures that are reasonably practicable; this involves balancing the risk against the trouble, time and money needed to control it.

Additional Considerations

You must consider further documentation if you are operating a commercial business that invites people near, onto, or into the water. This could include Normal Operating Procedures (NOP) and Emergency Action Plans (EAP). Talk to us if you’re unsure of the documentation you need in place.

Click here to make an enquiry.

Disclaimer: The content on this webpage is focused on water safety risk assessments. Users are reminded that, depending on their nature of business, additional safety documents such as operating and emergency action procedures may be required. This resource is not a substitute for comprehensive safety planning, and users are encouraged to consult with relevant experts and authorities to ensure full compliance with safety regulations and requirements. The webpage and its authors do not assume liability for decisions made or actions based on the information presented herein.