Health and safety as a concept often hits the headlines for all the wrong reasons –usually because it’s cited as a catch-all excuse for not being able to do something.
Employment minister Mark Hoban, for example, recently spoke of having asked to have a few inches sawn off his Christmas tree, only to be told that wouldn’t be possible because of “health and safety”. And, “health and safety rules” were also cited to ban war veterans from raising a Union Jack Flag over their town hall.
But the creation, and implementation, of a health and safety policy is a legal must for the workplace. And, carried out correctly, and sensibly, health and safety rules should protect employees, employers and members of the public. Here are the main considerations to think about when putting together health and safety guidelines:
Put it in writing
Outlining how you will manage health and safety in your company will reassure your employees, and anyone else who comes into contact with your firm, that you are committed to their health and safety. Indeed, if you have five or more employees then, by law, you must have a written policy in place.
But, even if you employee just two or three people, writing down how your firm aims to prevent accidents and work-related ill-health can help to focus your attention on any issues which need addressing. Your written document doesn’t have to be complicated but it should say who is responsible for which tasks, and when and how these should be carried out.
Carrying out a risk assessment is a must because, once you’ve identified any risks, you can turn your attention to controlling or eliminating them. Because some industries are, by their very nature, risky, the law doesn’t expect you to completely remove all potential dangers, just to implement effective risk control measures.
Examine your workplace for any possible hazards, thinking about any equipment or practice which could cause an accident, and who might be hurt. Don’t forget to get your employees involved in letting you know where they believe any problems lie. If you have lone workers are they equipped and safe when away from the workplace? Once you’ve identified, and noted, the risks, you can work on making sure your business has proper measures in place to protect staff and customers.
Consultation and training
Employees on the ground are best placed to spot any potential health and safety risks. Consult them about whether they think you are doing enough to control risks, and whether they believe they need any further information or training.
Once you’ve spoken to staff directly, or through a health and safety representative or trade union, you can make that feedback the basis of your training programme. Keep training records to identify any gaps in training provision, and make sure you are meeting the needs of new recruits, contractors and anyone who is changing roles or taking on different responsibilities.
The right facilities
The obvious consideration is a first aid box, which all businesses should both have, and make sure that staff know where to find, and how to use. As a minimum, businesses are expected to have an appropriately stocked first aid box as well as an appointed first-aider.
But firms also need to consider whether they are providing the right facilities for their staff overall. For their well-being, health and hygiene, employees are entitled to have toilets and hand basins, along with soap and towels or dryers; clean drinking water; a place to keep their clothes and change if they wear a special uniform or safety clothing for work; and somewhere to take a break and eat their meals. Companies also need to think about whether temperature and lighting conditions are reasonable, and make sure staff have suitable workstations to carry out their duties.
Even if you put in place all the correct procedures, accidents can, and do, happen. So, ensuring your business has liability insurance is a necessary and cost-effective measure as, if an employee is injured or unwell as a result of their work, they could decide to claim compensation. Just make sure your policy is with an authorised insurer, verified by the Financial Conduct Authority.
Once you’ve done all that, your work is still not done as you’ll need to make sure your policies and risk assessments are regularly reviewed and revised – to incorporate any changes in legislation or working practices, ensuring your health and safety obligations are met, and your employees are healthy and happy at work.
Martin Reilly is a writer and someone who has done a lot of work in the health and safety area. He has written for a number of websites and blogs in this area.