The single document on the assessment of risks to the health and safety of workers

Health and safety are two major priorities in our society and the business world is no exception.

The obligations of the head of a company with regard to the safety and health protection of workers have thus become particularly burdensome and of such a nature as to engage his or her responsibility to a very large extent.

The legislator thus gives company managers a real role in the area of prevention, in particular by obliging them to constantly assess the risks that workers may encounter in their companies.

This risk assessment must be set out in a single document that is updated each year and must serve as a basis for reflection on risk prevention actions.


In addition to the specific regulatory provisions specific to certain fields of activity or the use of certain particularly dangerous products or processes, today's business leaders must ensure compliance with general safety obligations which may, in the event of non-compliance, lead to civil and criminal liability.

This is where the legal provisions relating to the drafting of the single document come into play.

The obligations of the company director in terms of risk prevention :

The obligations of the company director with regard to the safety and health protection of workers have been specified by the law of December 31, 1991, which has been applicable since December 31, 1992.

This law introduced a new Article L 230-2-I into the Labour Code, in application of the provisions of Community Directive No. 89/391 of 12 June 1989 and provided for two general requirements.

A general obligation to ensure the safety and health protection of workers:

This safety obligation has been further reinforced by the "Asbestos" rulings, which impose an obligation of result on company director in this area.

An obligation to carry out a risk assessment:

This obligation to ensure the safety and health protection of workers has as a corollary an obligation to prevent risks.

Article L230-2-III of the Labour Code thus obliges company managers to detect risks in order to eliminate them or, at the very least, to assess them if they cannot be totally avoided.

It is in this context that the Decree of 5 November 2001 introduced a new article R 230-1 into the Labour Code which obliges all employers, whatever the size of the workforce and the activity of the enterprise, to transcribe and update, in a single document, the results of the assessment of occupational risks identified in each work unit of the enterprise or establishment..

This obligation therefore actually entails two specific obligations:

  • drawing up a single document,
  • updating of this document, at least once a year and as soon as necessary:
    • an important decision to improve working conditions and/or health and safety,
    • new information on a risk factor.

This single document, which is a summary document centralizing the information collected on the subject, concerns only the health and safety of workers and not the safety of products, processes or the environment.

The circular of 18 April 2002 (CIRC DRT No. 6) also provides further details for the application of this decree, which will be detailed below.

Sanctions :

The importance of drawing up this document will naturally depend on the risks of the company director's liability being called into question.

In the event of an accident at work or an occupational disease, the civil and criminal liability of the company director can be all the more easily sought, or even aggravated, if no single document has been drawn up.

Moreover, even in the absence of an accident at work or an occupational disease, the Labour Code provides for specific penal sanctions.

Thus a 5th class fine (€1,500 fine and €3,000 for a repeat offence within one year) is imposed for failure to transcribe or update the single document.

However, the Circular specifies that a fair balance must be struck between this obligation and the time required to assess the risks.

Finally, it is also an offence not to make the single document available:

  • to staff representative bodies: offence of obstruction (Articles L263-2-2 and L 482-1 of the Labour Code),
  • to the Health and Safety Executive: 5th class contravention and the offence of hindering control if there is an intentional element (Article L 631-1 of the Labour Code).


The legislator has not limited the scope of this obligation to so-called dangerous activities and large companies.

Indeed, every company, whatever its activity and the number of its employees, must draw up this single document and update it every year.

Form of the single document:

No particular form is legally provided for.

The regulation also did not provide for a standard model.

It may be a written or digital document, it being specified that if it contains nominative information, it must however be declared to the CNIL (Cf. law of January 6, 1978).

If the company has several establishments, a single document may be drawn up for each establishment and the "single company document" will bring together the various "single establishment documents" that have been drawn up.

Content of the Single Document :

No mention is mandatory, but it must not be a simple inventory; the document must in fact reflect the risk analysis and prevention approach.

The document must therefore consist of two parts:

  • an inventory of hazards (detailing the sources of events harmful to employees),
  • a risk assessment (study of the conditions of exposure to hazards).

The implementation of a prevention policy is not expressly provided for in the circular, but is of course implied and indispensable.

Hazard inventory and risk assessment:

The single document must contain an inventory of the risks identified per work unit.

As the unit of work is not legally defined, the company director is completely free to determine them according to the criteria of his choice (geographical, position, autonomy, etc.)

It is then necessary to research in a very pragmatic and exhaustive way the work situations encountered in the enterprises in order to determine all the sources of danger.

Identification of positions and work situations resulting from the tasks to be performed:

For example, it is determined as follows:

  • the types of jobs in the company (e.g. warehouse worker, secretary, etc.),
  • work situations encountered in the performance of professional tasks (e.g. working at heights, working on a screen, etc.),
  • with the number of employees concerned and the time spent per shift or situation (e.g. 2 employees working at height four hours a day).

Description of work situations:

In particular, it is possible to determine:

  • gestures and attitudes specific to the execution of each identified task,
  • changes in the workspace (e.g. traffic in poorly lit corridors, slippery stairs, passage through scaffolding, etc.),
  • material and ergonomic constraints (e.g. exposure to cold, etc.),
  • professional constraints (e.g. concentration of intense work over several months followed by a period of low activity, etc.),
  • psychological constraints (strong supervision ...)

Potential hazards:

They may be identified according to their nature: physical hazards (noise, vibrations, ionising radiation, etc.), chemical hazards (asbestos, carcinogenic agents, etc.), biological hazards (bacteria, viruses, etc.), fire or explosion hazards, ergonomic factors (manual handling, soil conditions, etc.)

The importance of risks:

Risks are to be assessed according to their probability, severity, the number of people exposed and the duration and circumstances of exposure to the risk.

They may be classified according to their importance in descending order, which will then determine the priorities to be followed in terms of risk prevention.

Preventive actions

They are not provided for as such in the regulations, but the 2002 circular clearly states that the purpose of this risk assessment is to encourage preventive action.

Moreover, the existence of preventive action will demonstrate, in the event of the head of a company being held liable for an accident at work or occupational disease, that he has fulfilled his safety obligations and will make it more difficult for him to be held civilly and criminally liable.

It is obvious that all risks cannot be avoided, but it is nevertheless advisable to give priority to :

  • the elimination if possible of dangerous situations or dangerous phenomena (e.g. substitution by another non-dangerous product),
  • adoption of means of protection if the source of danger cannot be removed (in this case collective means of protection should be preferred over individual means of protection),
  • in any case, information and training of employees and possibly the setting up of appropriate medical surveillance.

The drafters of the Single Document

Only the company director is responsible for drafting and updating the single document.

He alone therefore determines the approach to be followed to assess the risks and transcribe the results into the document.

However, it is strongly recommended that the various parties involved in health and safety matters, i.e. the representative bodies, the CHSCT, the occupational physician and possibly external prevention services (CRAM, MSA, OPPBTP, ANACT), be included in this risk assessment process.

The employer will thus be able to use, in the context of this research, the documents relating to safety that will have been drawn up by these parties (e.g. analysis of occupational risks drawn up by the CHSCT, company sheet drawn up by the occupational medicine).

Communication of the document

The single document must be made available to the CHSCT, to staff delegates and to persons at risk in the absence of a staff representative body, to the occupational physician and, at their request, to the labour inspectorate and prevention services (CRAM and OPPBTP).

In a very general framework of health and safety protection, the single document must be correlated with the other documents that the head of the enterprise may be required to draw up in consultation with other heads of enterprises, in the event of (i) intervention by an employee of an outside enterprise (prevention plan under Article R 237-1 of the Labour Code) or (ii) intervention by the various enterprises on an outside site (PCG and PPSPS).

In certain very specific areas of activity, there are also strict regulations to be respected in terms of prevention (e.g. risk of exposure to noise, exposure to dangerous chemical substances, etc.)

Specific provisions are also set out in the circular concerning BPT companies and the OPPBTP (Professional Organisation for the Prevention of Building and Public Works) has developed an IT tool enabling SMEs to assess their risks and draw up their single document.