By Alex Madden
‘Health and Safety’ – three words that can leave the most hardened of business owners quivering. Like most things that come with running your own enterprise, it’s more often seen as a necessary evil on top of your usual responsibilities.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Whether your employee numbers are 6 or 60, or whether you’ve been running a business for months or years, Health and Safety can be simple if you follow a few easy steps.
Understand its purpose
It’s important to understand what Health and Safety is, but also what it isn’t.
Despite common perception, it’s not a cunning ruse to waste time and money on videos, posters and basic training. More than anything it comes down to two simple objectives – protecting you, and protecting your employees.
And while this often takes the form of preventing physical injury, a safe workplace is just as much about protecting the future of your business from legal or financial pitfalls.
It’s your responsibility to look after your employees, and by doing that you’ll look after your interests at the same time.
Understand the laws
It sounds silly, but knowing what’s expected is the first part of making sure you comply.
Health and Safety assessments are made up of different facets, not all of which will apply to your business. So before you can decide which are applicable (we’ll get to this next), you need to know the laws behind them.
There are specific governances for each area, such as the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health, and each will have different requirements and implications for your business.
However they all fall under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, and this is what you need to be really familiar with. So instead wading through a pious legal document, be sure to find one of the many resources that help you get to grips with it (there’s even one at the end of this article).
Once you know which acts are likely to affect your business, it’s time to get assessing. As the owner it’s your responsibility to effectively identify and record hazards and risks and it’s also a good opportunity to involve employees.
Despite your overarching responsibility it’s possible to delegate Health and Safety duties to a manager or supervisor. This can offer them a chance to thrive through extra duties and allow you to see how they get on.
But whoever completes it, it’s important you finish with a comprehensive list of risks.
Write up your policy
So you’ve identified your risks, and now it’s time to detail how you’ll manage them. This is where all that reading in point two comes in handy – now you know the laws, stating how you stick to them should be a lot easier.
The key is to keep it simple. Start by noting down all the risks you’ve found and then explain how you intend to manage them. It’s also where you note who’s helping you with the responsibilities.
Share your findings
A Health and Safety policy is no good if only you and a few others know about it, so be sure to get all your staff on board. As we discussed earlier a policy is to protect you and your employees, so ensuring they know the risks and how to manage them is the most important step to prevention.
Hold a session to introduce your new policy and follow this up with regular ‘refreshers’ to make sure everyone remembers. Aid this with clear posters and signs highlighting risks around the workplace, and you’ll be able to make it part of the culture as opposed to a chore.
And of course, regularly check and re-evaluate your policy. If your workplace changes, it should too.
Top up your knowledge
There are plenty of places to find assistance should you need it, but Health and Safety Executive is both a sound starting point and a good place to keep on top of your knowledge.
And for more hints and tips, here are some of the best resources available:
- Health and Safety guide for start ups
- Tips for small and medium businesses
- Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 explained
- Example policy template