Health and Safety for small businesses
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With so many other demands, especially if you’re juggling the many responsibilities of a small business owner, managing health and safety can quickly fall to the bottom of the priority list.

But accidents can occur at any time, even in low-risk environments, and overlooking this can lead to high costs in terms of sick pay, absence and claims for compensation.

For small businesses in particular, accident-related absence can have a disproportionate impact – one person missing due to injury can be a significant proportion of your workforce; so keeping them safe at work makes economic sense.

For most businesses, health and safety arrangements don’t need to be complicated or time-consuming, they’re simply about having the right processes in place to identify risks and taking steps to protect you and your employees from those risks.

In this guide we will cover:

• Legal requirements
• Health and Safety Training
• First-aid in the workplace
• Risk assessments
• What is DSE?
• Accident reporting
• Employers’ Liability Insurance
• Additional Health and Safety considerations – Driving on company business and lone working
• Consequences of non-compliance

While there are some very specific legal requirements for certain types of businesses -and it’s important to get tailored advice around these – many requirements apply to all businesses. These include:

  • Compliance with the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974
  • A documented health and safety policy (if you have more than 5 employees)
  • Either, displaying a Health and Safety Law poster or providing each worker with the equivalent Health and Safety Law leaflet
  • Displaying appropriate health and safety signage
  • Providing clear health and safety training for all employees
  • A fully stocked first aid kit on your premises and an appointed person responsible for first aid requirements.
  • Carrying out a risk assessment, and keeping this up to date
  • Documenting and communicating emergency procedures, such as what to do in a fire.
  • Providing an accident report log so employees can report any accidents or near misses.

The main points of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act

The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 sets out that it’s the duty of an employer to reasonably ensure the health, safety and welfare of all their employees and others who may be affected by the way that they go about their work.

This covers customers, visitors, contractors, neighbours, and members of the public (even those who wander in through an open door).

Employees also have a responsibility under the Health and Safety at Work Act. They must:

  • take reasonable care of their own health and safety and the health and safety of those that may be affected by their actions.
  • co-operate with their employer to enable them to comply with their health and safety duties
  • use equipment and safe systems of work provided by their employer as instructed.

Health and Safety policy for small businesses

If you have more than five employees you must have a health and safety policy that explains how you will manage health and safety in your business.

It should clearly outline your responsibilities as an employer to protect the health, safety and welfare of your employees, and the responsibilities of your employees to take care of their own health and safety and that of others who may be affected by their actions at work.

Health and Safety Law poster

Regardless of the number of employees you have, you should display a Health and Safety Law poster where employees can easily read it. The staff kitchen is often an ideal place.

Alternatively, you can provide each worker with a copy of the equivalent pocket card, which is useful if your employees work away from your office.

Additional signage

You should also put up safety signage to notify staff of:

  • fire escape routes and exit signs
  • first aid information
  • hot water
  • corrosive materials
  • any other hazards that could endanger your employees

Health and Safety Training

You must provide clear health and safety instructions and adequate training for your employees, so that they know how to carry out their work safely. It’s often a good idea to include this as part of your induction process.

As a minimum, health and safety training should include:

  • identification of any known risks such as slips trips and fall hazards
  • how to assess and minimise these
  • details of your emergency procedures such as what to do in the event of a fire or a flood, or if an employee suffers a serious injury

Keep a record of who’s undertaken this training and when, and ensure that you identify when refresher training is required.

Depending on your business, you may need to prove that you have done this training, and should also be able to demonstrate that it was understood by the employees who attended. This can be done by asking employees to complete a questionnaire at the end of their training to check their understanding.

In addition to training your employees, you are expected to consult with them on a regular basis. This should be a two-way dialogue; you must keep staff updated with any health and safety developments in the workplace, and listen to any concerns or suggestions they may have.

First-aid in the work place

You should ensure that you have a suitably stocked and properly identified first-aid kit at every work site belonging to your business. Each should contain a sufficient quantity of first-aid materials suitable for the particular circumstances.

You should also have an appointed person responsible for first aid arrangements.

You do not legally need a qualified first-aider, however it’s strongly recommended. And the number of first-aiders you have should depend on the size of your workforce and the nature of your business.

Finally, make sure all your employees are aware of these first aid arrangements, and know what to do in an emergency.

What’s the difference between an appointed person and a first-aider?

An appointed person is someone you choose to take charge in the event of an accident or if someone falls ill. They would ensure that an ambulance is called, if required. They also take charge of keeping the first-aid box stocked. Appointed persons should not attempt to give first-aid for which they have not been trained. However, there are short courses appointed persons can attend to help them deal with emergency situations.

A first-aider is someone who has successfully undergone a training course in administering first-aid at work, and who also holds a valid certificate.

Risk assessments

As part of managing the health and safety of your business, you must control the risks in your workplace. A risk assessment will help you to identify any hazards, which must then be documented, along with steps that must be taken to minimise these risks.

When carrying out a risk assessment, the following questions will help:

  1. What are the potential hazards?
  2. Who might be harmed and how?
  3. What measures are already in place?
  4. Are the measures enough to reduce risk as far as possible?
  5. If changes are needed, when do they need to be completed by and by whom?

Potential hazards, and actions to minimise these might include:

Fire risks – training staff to use firefighting equipment, and taking steps to reduce or remove high fire risks.

Hazardous substances – display signage to identify hazardous substances to staff, ensure staff are trained to handle these materials in a responsible way, so as to avoid spills or injury, and keep up to date information on these substances.

Manual handling – train staff on the safest way to lift and move heavy equipment.

Heights – train staff to ensure that items of any height are secure before climbing them.

Trip hazards – display signage clearly.

Electric shocks – train staff on how to work responsibly around electrical equipment so as not to harm themselves or others.

What is DSE?

DSE stands for display screen equipment, ie. PCs, laptops and smart phones.

With so many workers using DSE to carry out a significant proportion of their day to day work, it’s becoming increasingly more common for employers to have to make sure employees carry out a DSE workstation assessment.

Carrying out a DSE assessment

In order to comply with the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992, all workers who use DSE daily for more than an hour at a time must complete a DSE assessment. This involves making sure staff are comfortable at their workstation and aren’t straining to look at their screen, so as to avoid repetitive strain or musculoskeletal injuries?

The assessment must be repeated when a DSE user changes their workstation or workstation set up, or if they complain of discomfort using their current set up.

The HSE provides a checklist to help you carry out a DSE assessment.

Employers must also make sure DSE users take breaks from DSE work, provide an eye test if a worker asks for one and provide training and information on using DSE equipment correctly.

Accident reporting

Employers are required to record all accidents that take place in the workplace. This reporting will help you to investigate potential risks and prevent incidents reoccurring.

The accident record needs to include:

  • the date, time and place of the accident
  • details of those involved including the injured person’s name and job title
  • a brief description of the nature of the event
  • what treatment was given and details of what happened afterwards i.e. did the injured person go to hospital or were they sent home?
  • the name of the first aider or the person who dealt with the incident
  • a signature.

You must report any incident to the Health and Safety Executive which results in:

  • an employee being away from work or unable to perform their normal work duties for more than seven consecutive days (not counting the day of the accident)
  • a death
  • fracture of a major bone
  • injury to members of the public or people who are not at work, and who are taken from the scene of the accident to hospital for treatment to that injury.

There are many other specific incidents and occupational illnesses that must also be reported, so if anything significant happens, it’s always best to seek advice from an expert in health and safety.

Employers’ Liability Insurance

Unless you don’t have any employees, or you’re a family business with only close relatives working for you, you will most likely need employers’ liability insurance.

This insurance will help you to pay any compensation if an employee is injured or becomes ill as a result of the work they do for you, and seek to claim compensation from you.

Additional Health and Safety considerations

Two of the common scenarios we regularly provide additional health and safety advice on are:

Driving on company business

You are still responsible for staff who work out of a vehicle. This means that, usually through employment policies, you should try to ensure that employees:

  • Drive safely and follow the highway code
  • Don’t smoke in company cars
  • Don’t take phone calls while driving (even with hands-free), and handle this appropriately if they need to take calls while en-route to meetings
  • Keep company cars in a state that is safe to drive
  • Have a valid driving licence, and don’t drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Take regular breaks when driving.

Lone working

In some cases, employees may be required to work alone. In which case you must ensure:

  • You complete specific lone-working risk assessments for staff working on their own
  • You provide training for when working alone, in addition to the standard Health and Safety training
  • Out of hours communication is made available to the employee, and they are given guidance on proper emergency procedures
  • The employee understands the correct procedure should an accident occur
  • The employee is safe, as far as reasonably possible, i.e., when walking to and from their car at night.

Consequences of non-compliance

By failing to comply with health and safety regulations you not only heighten the risk of injury to your staff, but also risk facing criminal prosecution, which will cost you both financially and in terms of your reputation.

Although the cost of getting things wrong can be high, the steps to take to stay compliant needn’t be overly complicated or time consuming to put in place, especially given what’s a stake.

Need extra advice on managing health and safety?

While this article covers some of the basic legal requirements, there’s a significant amount of specific health and safety law that applies to different industries and types of work. Examples of these include working with noise, vibration, gas and asbestos, or if you work within construction, care work, catering or hairdressing…the list goes on.

It’s your responsibility as an employer to be aware of the laws relevant to your business and ensure that you’re adequately protecting your staff. We have experts on hand to help you to identify and build more specific tools, should your employees work in these higher risk environments, or if you have specific needs.

To help business owners manage health and safety within their organisation, we’ve also created a number of health and safety documents including risk assessment and health and safety policy templates.

Our HR software can also help businesses to comply with health and safety law, by enabling you to store details of the individuals responsible for health and safety, such as fire wardens or first aiders. You can also set reminders so that if any of these people leave, you know to train or appoint other members of your team.

You can also store your health and safety policy and other essential information on the system for your staff to reference when needed.

Get HR Support

If you need extra support managing your Health & Safety procedures, our HR consultants can help.

Get in touch on or give us a call on 0333 014 3888 to find out more about how we can help your business with friendly, expert HR support.

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