How does the Health and Safety act apply to your business?

By Anthony Wolny | 10th August 2018 | 12 min read

What is health and safety at work?

The basis of British Health and Safety law is set out in the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974The Act sets out the general obligations employers hold towards employees and members of the public, and that employees have towards themselves and each other.

Employers must protect the ‘health, safety and welfare’ at work of all employees, as well as others on their premises; including temps, casual workers, the self-employed, clients, visitors and the general public.

These duties are qualified in the Act by the idea of ‘so far as reasonably practical.’ Essentially, this means that an employer does not have to take measures to reduce or avoid the risk if they are technically impossible.

In other words, what the law requires is good management and common sense – look at what risks are present, assess them proportionately, and take sensible measures in order to tackle them where possible.

What the basics expected from an employer?

If you are an employer, your workers have a right to work in a place where risks to health and safety are controlled. You are responsible for the following health and safety regulations:

  • Deciding what could harm employees in the workplace, and the precautions necessary to prevent this. This forms part of a risk assessment.
  • Informing employees as to how risks can be controlled, and who is responsible for them.
  • Consulting and working with employers and health and safety representatives to protect everyone from harm in the workplace.
  • Providing the designated health and safety training that employees need to conduct their duties.
  • Supplying any equipment and protective clothing that is necessary to allow employees to effectively and safety conduct their duties.
  • Providing toilets, washing facilities, drinking water and first aid facilities.
  • Having insurance that covers employees who are injured or made ill through workplace activities or conditions. A hard copy of this insurance policy should also be displayed in a visible workplace area.

What are the basics expected from an employee?

If you are an employee in the workplace, you are responsible for the following in regard to health and safety regulations:

  • Following the training received when using any work items that has been provided by the employer.
  • Taking reasonable care of your own and other people’s health and safety.
  • Co-operating with your employer on all matters to do with health and safety.
  • Raising a concern if you believe that working practices or inadequate precautions are posing a risk to employee health and safety.

How is a health & safety problem reported?

If you are an employee worried about health and safety in your place of work, your first port of call is to raise a concern with your line manager or supervisor. They should in turn contact your workplace’s elected health and safety representative in order to resolve the issue safely (if possible). Locating the correct authority and the complaints process can be found at the Government’s dedicated health and safety website.

How do I write an action plan to tackle health and safety?

The key to writing a solid action plan is to identify what core actions are necessary – these should be the same whatever the size of your organisation. However, if you run a very small business, the HSE’s health and safety toolbox resource may be more relevant to you. A guide framework to effectively plan your health and safety strategy is provided below:

1. Plan

  • How are you going to manage health and safety? If you have five or more employees, your health and safety plan must be written down.
  • Consult with your employees on your plan – their support is vital to its future success.

2. Do

  • Put the plan into practice
  • Ensure that they have the necessary resources ready to ensure it can be carried out
  • Assess and deal with the real risks face your staff – this should be conducted sensibly and proportionately. Do not waste time on trivial risks and paperwork where not needed.
  • If you take on new employees or ways of working, consider whether this could trigger health and safety risks that were previously not identified.

3. Check

  • Keep in touch with events and developments – this is often easier to do in SME’s, so ensure that you use this to your advantage if your company is on the smaller side.
  • It is also worth keeping up to date with all legislation related to health and safety, and any changes to the law that may occur.

4. Act

  • Review your health and safety policy on a regular basis and check how effective your guidelines are. If a serious workplace incident occurs, this is even more imperative.

How do I choose a health & safety representative?

As an employer, you must appoint someone competent to guide you in meeting your health and safety duties. This individual must have the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to manage your agreed processes.

If you run a low-risk business; e.g. a small office operation; you do not need to pay for external guidance. You could appoint yourself as a competent person, or else select a nominated employee with a genuine interest in health and safety, who is prepared to undertake any necessary training for the role.

Providing the right facilities

You are bound by the Health and Safety Act 1974 to provide the right workplace facilities for everyone, including employees with disabilities. This sounds daunting, but it doesn’t need to be complicated if you focus on the basic standards required. These include providing and considering:

  1. Welfare Facilities

For employee wellbeing, you must provide:

  • Toilets and washbasins, with soap and either towels or a handryer
  • Clean drinking water
  • A place to store outdoor or protective clothing
  • Somewhere to rest and eat meals during breaks
  1. Health Issues

To ensure a healthy working environment, make sure there is:

  • Good ventilation
  • A reasonable working temperature
  • Suitable lighting
  • Enough work space and suitable working stations
  • Clean work space and appropriate waste bins
  1. Safety Issues

To keep your workplace safe, you must:

  • Properly maintain your premises and work equipment
  • Keep floor and walkways free from obstruction
  • Have windows that can be opened and cleaned safely

What are common health & safety risks?

There are many areas to be aware of within your business when considering health and safety. The main ones include, but are not exclusive too:

  • Electrical safety, including computer equipment, trailing wires, lighting, heating and immersion
  • Fire safety
  • Gas safety
  • Harmful substances
  • Machinery, plant and equipment
  • Manual handling
  • Noise levels
  • Slips and trips
  • Working at height
  • Working in confined areas
  • Workplace transport
  • Vibration

You must also make adequate arrangements for first-aid within your workplace. This includes ensuring that employees receive immediate medical attention if taken ill or injured at work. As a minimum you must:

  • Have a suitably stocked first-aid box
  • Appoint a person to take charge of first-aid arrangements
  • Provide information to all employees of first-aid arrangements

How do I deal with accidents and investigations?

Under health and safety law, you must report and keep a record of workplace injuries, incidents and any cases of work-related disease.

You can find out which ones must be reported and how to report them on the government’s health and safety reporting portal; Riddor. This stands for the ‘Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurences Regulations (2013).

You should also note that if you have more than ten employees, or own or occupy a mine, quarry or factory, you required by law to keep an accident book, in which to store records of all workplace accidents and/or injuries.

Health and safety can be a minefield for SME’s, but researching and following the suggested guidance and procedures can ensure a happier and healthier workforce. Health and Safety is vitally important as it essentially protects the wellbeing of your employees, visitors and customers – basically, monitoring it closely makes good business sense! Workplaces that neglect health and safety regulations can often risk prosecution, may lose staff, and ultimately may face increasing costs and a subsequent reduction in overall business profitability.