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This page offers support and guidance around how to asses risk for group walking and running activities

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How difficult is it to carry out a risk assessment?

The need for a risk assessment and how to approach doing one is often misunderstood, and just mention of the term can be off putting for people wanting to organise activities. This is because they may believe it to be a complicated and/or bureaucratic process, or that they need specialist skills.

This guidance has, therefore, been put together to help anyone thinking of organising a group walk or run to understand when a risk assessment is required, how to do one and what needs to be written down. With the help of a series of questions.

This page has been put together to help anyone thinking of organising an activity. Click on the question’s below to reveal our answers.

It is recommended that the guidance provided is used in conjunction with the guidance on insurance.

Q: Is a risk assessment required by law? 

A: The law in the UK only requires risk assessments to be carried out and documented by businesses, employers and self-employed people covered by the Health and Safety at Work Act. There is no legal requirement for risk assessments on volunteers, including those organising informal activities with friends or members of the community.

However, this doesn’t necessary mean you shouldn’t carry out a risk assessment.

If you have taken out insurance for your activity, or your activity is to be covered by an insurance policy held by an organisation to which you are connected, then it is likely that the insurance company will require a risk assessment to be done. This includes run leaders/coaches licensed by England Athletics and walk leaders insured by the local council.

Also, regardless of any legal or insurance company requirements, it is still a good idea to do a risk assessment. This is discussed in more details below.

Q: What is the benefit of doing a risk assessment? 

A: The biggest and most important benefit of doing a risk assessment is to help avoid anyone taking part in an activity being harmed in any way as a result.

A secondary benefit is that it will help you show that you have taken the duty of care you have to others seriously, and that you have done what is reasonable to keep participants safe. Therefore, in the event of someone being injured, it is less likely that they’ll be able to make a claim against you for personal injury or loss.

Q: Does a risk assessment need to be written down? 

A: If you are legally required to, and/or your insurers require it, then yes.

Otherwise, it is not always expected that it would be written down, but it might be wise to do so. It’s hard to be exact about this but your judgement can largely be based on common sense.

For example: Let’s say you invite a couple of friends to go for a local walk or run with you. You know them and their capabilities well, and you’re not likely to encounter any significant hazards that they wouldn’t regularly encounter on a day-to-day basis as they go about their lives. For this kind of circumstance, it’s very unlikely that they’d expect you to write up a risk assessment.

However, if you plan to do something more ambitious (such as venturing off into the mountains) and/or open out the invite, say to friends of friends or to members of a Facebook group, then the situation starts to change.

Unless you think things through more carefully and put some controls in place, there is chance that participants may encounter hazards with which they’re not familiar or equipped for.

Therefore, thinking more deeply about what may go wrong and how you may prevent this, and/or minimise the consequences, is a sensible thing to do. This is exactly what a risk assessment is. So, writing down the key things is useful, both as an aide-memoire for yourself and to show others that you have thought thing through and will do what’s expected to keep people safe.  

Q: Do I need special skills or training to do a risk assessment?

A: In most cases, no. All you need is a good understanding of the activity, the location or environment it will be in, the kind of things that could go wrong and the typical things that should be done to prevent them.

For basic walking or running activities in or around your local neighbourhood that you regularly do yourself, it is likely that you already have the sufficient knowledge to do a risk assessment.

If heading into an area or environment you are not familiar with, or the activity requires special skills (e.g. use of ropes), then this may not be the case.

Therefore, if there are things that you are uncertain of, it is advisable to:

  • Involve others that are more experienced or knowledgeable about the activity in the process, and/or
  • Gain some more experience or have some training before planning such an activity.

Q: How detailed does a risk assessment need to be? 

A: The level of detail should reflect the potential level of risk involved in the activity and should focus mainly on the significant hazards that may be encountered.  

You do not need to get bogged down in detail on trivial and/or everyday hazards (such as kerbs) or things that are (although theoretically possible) have almost zero likelihood of causing any noteworthy harm.  You should concentrate on the things that could cause a significant injury, particularly if due to hazards that may not be immediately obvious to a participant.

The word ‘potential’ is important here though. This is because it makes us think carefully about the foreseeable things that may go wrong if things aren’t perfect on the day. For example, different weather conditions may impact on how the activity is managed and the measures you put in place, e.g. you should consider the risks if the weather is poor, not just for a fine day.


Q: How do I carry out a risk assessment? 

A. When you need to do a risk assessment, the following 5 steps can be used as a guide. These are based on best practice issued by the Health & Safety Executive.

Before starting though, think about whether you have enough knowledge and experience of the activity to be able to do it yourself, or whether you need any help from someone more familiar with the kind of activity you are planning. In any case, involving other people to gain the benefit of their experience and views is recommended.

Step 1: Identify hazards

Identify the things that may cause harm to people involved in the activity. These are the hazards.

As well as physical things that are there permanently (e.g. rocks or tree roots that could tripped over), think about things that may be specific to the time of day, time of year, weather conditions and/or the people involved in the activity.

Unless you are very familiar with the activity and visit the location frequently, a site visit is recommended as part of this process.

Step 2: Assess the risks

Assessing the risks involves thinking about how likely it is that someone could be harmed by the hazards identified, how the harm might occur and how serious it could be.

When doing this you should think about those leading the activity and other people you may encounter (e.g. members of the public out walking or running on the same paths), as well as the participants.

You should concentrate on the hazards where the risk is significant. This is where:

  • there is a high likelihood of an injury; and/or
  • where the likely outcome is a significant injury. 

As mentioned earlier on this page, you do not need to get bogged down in detail on trivial everyday hazards that would be immediately obvious to participants and/or highly unlikely to cause any noteworthy harm.

Step 3: Control the risks

Firstly, you should consider whether hazards that present a significant risk can be removed altogether, e.g. using a different location.

Where you cannot get rid of them you should think about what control measures could be put in place to make harm unlikely.  These could be physical things such as diversions around slippery ground, kit requirements such as grippy shoes, or procedural things such as participant briefings or requiring a certain level of skill/fitness.

It’s impossible to eliminate all risks completely but you should do everything that is ‘reasonably practicable’ to avoid people being harmed. This means balancing the level of risk against the measures that would be required to control it, in terms of cost, time or trouble.

For example, you wouldn’t be expected to stop a group during a walk to point out every rock or tree root that they could possibly trip over. Just making it clear to them beforehand that there are some tripping hazards would probably be reasonable.

However, if the tripping hazard was hidden (e.g. rocks obscured by long grass) or the terrain is such that a fall is likely to result in a significant injury (e.g. you are near a long drop or steep gradient), then it would be reasonable to expect more control measures to be put in place.  

Step 4: Record your findings

Although it’s not always necessary to write down the findings of a risk assessment (see question 2 above), it’s good practice to do so. Not least because it may save time when planning future activities, as you wouldn’t be starting from scratch again. 

Step 5: Review the assessment

After an activity, it is good practice to review your risk assessment and think about whether any hazards were encountered that you didn’t foresee or if any additional or different control measures should be put in place for similar activities in future. 


Q: What should I do with a completed risk assessment?  

A: A suitable risk assessment will have identified the reasonable things you need to do or put in place to prevent harm to people during the activity.  So, the most important thing you should do afterwards, is to ensure that the things that the risk assessment have identified are actually done in practice.

After the activity it should be reviewed to see if anything it had not originally identified came up. And, if so, ensure it is updated to reflect that for future activities.

It should then be retained for a reasonable amount of time, in case you need to demonstrate the process you went through.

Thank you to Peak Running for their work in helping to produce this resource.

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