Health and safety is usually discussed with disdain “healthy and safety gone mad!”, but in reality, complying with health and safety is straightforward for the vast majority of small businesses.
There are two key pieces of legislation when it comes to health and safety are:
The health and safety work acts mandate the responsibility of employers and business owners. Failure to properly comply with health and safety is a crime.
The rules are proportionate to the type of business, even though all businesses, including one-person self-employed businesses, are subject to health and safety rules. The rules scale to a business’s size and risk - HSE understands that a small IT business is subject to far fewer risks than an enterprise-sized manufacturing team.
Nevertheless, all businesses should know and understand what they need to be compliant with health and safety rules.
Health and Safety: The Basics
First and foremost, every employer must have Employer’s Liability Insurance as standard - this is a legal requirement. Employer’s Liability Insurance can help cover some or all compensation costs if an employee becomes ill or injured as a result of the work they do for you. Public Liability Insurance is not required by law but provides additional cover if members of the public or other individuals like clients suffer personal injury or property damage because of your business.
As standard, every business must also appoint a competent person who can assist in health and safety in the workplace. The competent person must be able to recognise hazards and risks in the workplace and make recommendations.
Whilst this sounds like an official role that requires training, leading many businesses to question whether they’re even able to appoint a ‘competent person’, there are no legal requirements for who this can be and whether or not they require proper training. For small businesses, it can be you as the business owner, or another employee, but larger businesses will often choose to employ a health and safety officer.
Aside from that, the creation of a health and safety policy is essential. All businesses require a health and safety policy, but only businesses with 5 employees or more need to write their policy down. In the event of an incident or accident, the policy will be checked, so it has to be thorough, accurate and well-written.
Health and Safety Policy
In general, to be compliant with health and safety, workplaces should be scrutinised for potential hazards and those hazards documented with a view to reducing their likelihood of causing harm.
Welfare provisions should be evaluated, e.g. the availability of toilets and first-aid kits. Everyone should know where to find the first-aid kit(s) and how to use basic safety tools, like fire extinguishers and fire blankets.
What is a Health and Safety Policy?
The business should carry out a risk assessment and all employees will need to be informed and educated of the findings.
The minimum risk assessment required by the Health and Safety Work Regulations is:
- Identifying what events, equipment or situations could cause injury or illness in your business (the hazards)
- Evaluating the likelihood that someone could be harmed and how seriously (the risk)
- Working to reduce, control or eliminate the hazard and risk
For many businesses, this will be very straightforward indeed. For others, it involves a rigorous process of checking the workplace for everything from unstable storage shelves to swinging doors, loose wires, flooding risks and even chemical contamination. In these situations, it would be advised to hire a health and safety adviser to help conduct the risk assessment and write the policy.
Typical risks to evaluate include:
- Electrical safety
- Fire safety
- Manual handling
- Slips and trip hazards
- Working at height
Businesses should also have a protocol for reporting accidents. Any serious accidents need to be reported to RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations).
How to Write a Health and Safety Policy
As mentioned, businesses with 5 or more employees will need to write down their health and safety policy and keep it on a permanent record.
There are 3 main components to a health and safety policy:
1: Statement of Intent
The statement of intent details how a business intends to manage risk and hazards in the workplace. It’s a summary of how the business is taking an active approach to health and safety and understands its obligations. This should be signed by the most senior person in the business, likely the owner of a small business.
2: Responsibilities for Health and Safety
Each person may need to be given a specific health and safety role in case of an accident or incident. These might include locating the first-aid kit, administering first-aid, using a fire extinguisher, etc. Larger businesses will need an organisation chart. It’s worth mentioning that despite individuals in the business sharing responsibility on some level, accountability lies chiefly with the owner or highest management.
3: Arrangements for Health and Safety
The longest and most detailed section, the arrangements for health and safety including everything from managing risks, e.g. noise exposure, hazardous materials regulations, fire safety, etc, as well as arrangements that deal with specific risks. The need for any training will be detailed here, as will evacuation plans and other emergency provisions.
HSE provides a vast range of tools and resources for businesses of all types, including this guide on how to create a health and safety policy and this A-Z of health and safety guidance by industry.
This article just covers the basics - higher risk businesses operating in certain industries will need to take more steps to adequately secure their health and safety.
Summary: Does a Small Business Need a Health & Safety Policy?
The short answer is yes, every small business should be conscious of health and safety, even if you’re self-employed. Businesses with more than 5 or more employees need to write their health and safety policy down, and it should be as comprehensive as it needs to be for the workplace and industry.
Health and safety for small businesses with low risks and hazards is mostly just common sense, but that does not mean it can be overlooked entirely.