Health and Safety – Overview
Managing health and safety doesn’t have to be complicated, costly or time-consuming. In fact it’s easier than you think. If you have taken reasonable steps to prevent accidents or harm to your employees (and the injury or illness was caused after 1 October 2013), you shouldn’t have to pay compensation.
For many businesses, all that’s required is a basic series of practical tasks that protect people from harm and at the same time protect the future success and growth of your business. The site will take you through the steps and help you make sure you have done what you need to - and no more.
In general, health and safety laws apply to all businesses. As an employer, or a self-employed person, you are responsible for health and safety in your business. Health and safety laws are there to protect you, your employees and the public from workplace dangers.
The approach you take should be proportionate to the size of your business and the nature of your business activity. For most small, low-risk businesses the steps you need to take are straightforward. If you have fewer than five employees you don’t have to write down your risk assessment or your health and safety policy.
Appointing a Competent Person
As an employer, you must appoint someone competent to help you meet your health and safety duties. A competent person is someone with the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to manage health and safety.
If you run a low-risk business, health and safety is something you can manage without needing to buy in expert help. Here you could appoint yourself as a competent person or one or more of your workers.
However, if you are not confident of your ability to manage all health and safety in-house, or if you are a higher-risk business, you may need some external help or advice.
Writing your Health and Safety Policy
Describing how you will manage health and safety in your business will let your staff and others know about your commitment to health and safety. This will be your health and safety policy. It should clearly say who does what, when and how.
If you have fewer than five employees you don’t have to write down your health and safety policy.
The policy does not need to be complicated or time-consuming. To help you, the Health and Safety Executive has created Microsoft Word and Open Document Format templates that you can download and complete. The template also includes a section for your risk assessment so that you can record everything in one document.
A policy will only be effective if you and your staff follow it and review it regularly.
Controlling the Risks in your Business
As part of managing the health and safety of your business, you must control the risks in your workplace. To do this you need to think about what, in your business, might cause harm to people and decide whether you are taking reasonable steps to prevent that harm. This is known as a risk assessment. You are probably already taking steps to protect your employees, but your risk assessment will tell you whether you have covered all you need to.
A risk assessment is not about creating huge amounts of paperwork, but rather about identifying sensible measures to control the risks in your workplace.
You should record your significant findings, but there is no need to record everyday risks. Keep it simple and focus on controls. If you have fewer than five employees you don't have to write anything down.
The law does not expect you to remove all risks, but to protect people by putting in place measures to control those risks, so far as reasonably practicable. Your risk assessment need only include what you could reasonably be expected to know – you are not expected to anticipate unforeseeable risks.
For most low-risk businesses controlling risks is straightforward. An easy way to record your findings is to use the risk assessment template provided by the Health and Safety Executive, available in Microsoft Word or Open Document Format. This template also includes a section for your health and safety policy so you can record everything in one place.
How do I assess the risks in my workplace?
A good starting point is to walk around your workplace and look for any hazards, (things that may cause harm).
Then think about the risk, which is the chance, high or low, of somebody being harmed by the hazard, and how serious the harm could be.
Think about how accidents could happen and who might be harmed. Ask your employees what they think the hazards are, as they may notice things that are not obvious to you and may have some good ideas on how to control the risks.
Concentrate on the real risks – those that are most likely to cause harm. Consider the measures you are already taking to control the risks and ask if you have covered all you need to do.
Once you have identified the risks and what you need to do to control them, you should put the appropriate measures in place.
Then record your significant findings. Any paperwork you produce should help you to manage the risks in your business and tell people what they need to know. For most people this does not need to be a big exercise – just note the main points down about the significant risks and what you concluded.
If you have fewer than five employees you don’t have to write anything down.
Few workplaces stay the same and sooner or later you will bring in new equipment, substances or procedures that could lead to new hazards. It makes sense to review your risk assessment on a regular basis. If anything significant changes, check your risk assessment and update it.
Consider everyone who could be harmed
- Some workers may have particular requirements, for example new and young workers, new or expectant mothers, and people with disabilities.
- Think about homeworkers and people who might not be in the workplace all the time, such as visitors, contractors and maintenance workers.
- Take members of the public into account, if they could be hurt by your work activities.
- If you share a workplace with another business, you will need to consider how your work affects others and how their work affects you and your staff. Talk to each other and work together to make sure controls are in place.
- For some risks there are particular control measures that are required by law. The HSE website homepage has information on topics and industries to help you decide what you need to do about many common types of risk.
- A few examples of activities that carry a recognised risk of harm are working at height, working with chemicals, machinery, gas, electricity and asbestos. Depending on the type of work you do, there may be other risks that are relevant to your business.
- If you carry out a high-risk activity, you may need to obtain a licence or notify someone before you start work.
Consulting your Employees
You have to consult all your employees on health and safety. This does not need to be complicated. You can do this by listening and talking to them about:
- health and safety and the work they do;
- how risks are controlled;
- the best ways of providing information and training.
Consultation is a two-way process, allowing staff to raise concerns and influence decisions on the management of health and safety.
Your employees are often the best people to understand risks in the workplace and involving them in making decisions shows them that you take their health and safety seriously.
In a very small business, you might choose to consult your employees directly.
Alternatively, you might consult through a health and safety representative, chosen by your employees or selected by a trade union. As an employer, you cannot decide who will be the representative.
Providing Training and Information
Everyone who works for you needs to know how to work safely and without risks to health. You must provide clear instructions and information, and adequate training, for your employees.
Consider how much training is necessary. A proportionate approach is needed, for example a low-risk business would not need lengthy technical training. Providing simple information or instructions is likely to be sufficient.
Don’t forget contractors and self-employed people who may be working for you and make sure everyone has the right level of information on:
- hazards and risks they may face, if any ;
- measures in place to deal with those hazards and risks, if necessary;
- how to follow any emergency procedures.
When you provide training, ask your employees what they think about it to make sure it’s relevant and effective. Keeping training records will help you to identify when refresher training might be needed.
The information and training you provide should be in a form that is easy to understand. Everyone working for you should know what they are expected to do.
Health and safety training should take place during working hours and it must not be paid for by employees. There are many external trainers who will be able to help you with your training needs but effective training can often be done ‘in house’.
Some of your staff may have particular training needs, for example:
- new recruits;
- people changing jobs or taking on extra responsibilities;
- young employees, who are particularly vulnerable to accidents;
- health and safety representatives.
There are particular laws relating to the protection of young people at work and the functions and training of health and safety representatives.
Remember that staff will need extra training if you get new equipment or working practices change.
Providing the right workplace facilities
You must provide the right workplace facilities for everyone in your workplace, including people with disabilities. However this doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming.
Basic things you need to consider are outlined below.
For your employees' well-being you need to provide:
- toilets and hand basins, with soap and towels or a hand-dryer;
- drinking water;
- a place to store clothing (and somewhere to change if special clothing is worn for work);
- somewhere to rest and eat meals.
To have a healthy working environment, make sure there is:
- good ventilation – a supply of fresh, clean air drawn from outside or a ventilation system;
- a reasonable working temperature (usually at least 16°C, or 13°C for strenuous work, unless other laws require lower temperatures);
- lighting suitable for the work being carried out;
- enough room space and suitable workstations and seating;
- a clean workplace with appropriate waste containers.
To keep your workplace safe you must:
- properly maintain your premises and work equipment;
- keep floors and traffic routes free from obstruction;
- have windows that can be opened and also cleaned safely;
- make sure that any transparent (e.g. glass) doors or walls are protected or made of safety material.
There are specific laws relating to some higher-risk workplaces, such as construction sites.
First Aid, Accidents and Ill Health
You must have first-aid arrangements in your workplace.
You are responsible for making sure that your employees receive immediate attention if they are taken ill or are injured at work. Accidents and illness can happen at any time and first aid can save lives and prevent minor injuries from becoming major ones.
Your arrangements will depend on the particular circumstances in your workplace and you need to assess what your first-aid needs are.
As a minimum, you must have:
- a suitably stocked first-aid box;
- an appointed person to take charge of first-aid arrangements;
- information for all employees giving details of first-aid arrangements.
You might decide that you need a first-aider. This is someone who has been trained by an approved organisation and holds a qualification in first aid at work or emergency first aid at work.
Accidents and ill health
Under health and safety law, you must report and keep a record of certain injuries, incidents and cases of work-related disease.
Keeping records will help you to identify patterns of accidents and injuries, and will help when completing your risk assessment. Your insurance company may also want to see your records if there is a work-related claim.
- Make sure you protect people’s personal details by storing records confidentially in a secure place.
- If you have more than 10 employees, or own or occupy a mine, quarry or factory, you must keep an accident book under social security law.
You can buy an accident book from HSE Books or record the details in your own record system.
Displaying the Health and Safety Poster
If you employ anyone, you must display the poster Health and Safety Law - What you need to know or provide each worker with a copy of the equivalent pocket card. You must display the poster where your workers can easily read it. The poster is available from the HSE website.
The poster outlines British health and safety laws and includes a straightforward list that tells workers what they and their employers need to do. You can also add details of any employee safety representatives or health and safety contacts if you wish to do so.
A revised version of the health and safety law poster was published in 2009 and, as of 5 April 2014, you are obliged to display it or give workers the equivalent leaflet. It makes it easier for employers and saves time by removing the requirement to enter details of the local enforcing authority and the Employment Medical Advisory Service.
Getting Insurance for your Business
If your business has employees you will probably need employers' liability insurance.
If an employee is injured or becomes ill as a result of the work they do for you, they can claim compensation from you.
Meeting your health and safety duties is easier than you think. As long as you have taken reasonable steps to prevent accidents or harm to your employees (and the injury or illness was caused after 1 October 2013), you shouldn’t have to pay compensation. However, if a court finds you are liable, employers’ liability insurance will help you to pay any compensation for your employees’ injuries or illness.
Only a few businesses are not required to have employers' liability insurance. If you have no employees, or are a family business and all employees are closely related to you, you may not need it.
How do you get employers' liability insurance?
You can buy employers’ liability insurance through insurers or intermediaries like brokers or trade associations. You may find that it often comes as part of an insurance package designed to cover a range of business needs.
Your policy must be with an authorised insurer and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has a list of these. You can check their register on the FCA website.