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Health and safety obligations for new businesses

If you search for health and safety procedures online, it looks like an absolute minefield. In reality, it is pretty easy to get to grips with. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 is a piece of legislation and guidelines put into place to protect your employees, customers, visitors to your premises and you from harm.
Health and safety obligations for businesses

While it is pretty straightforward for most businesses, particularly smaller ones, to adhere to, we advise you to take advantage of CE safety training where possible, especially as there are more detailed and specific rules embedded in other regulations (such as The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992). However, in this article, CE Safety covers a few of the basics to get you started.

The basics

Your primary requirement is simple: make sure people working for you or those who are on your premises are protected from harm caused by business activities.

By doing this, you are also saving the reputation of your business and protecting yourself against any potential legal action if someone was to be injured. This will obviously have an impact on the long-term success of your business.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), who are in charge of the legislation, do take into account that different businesses operate in very different ways and have different needs. For example, a sole trader doing IT programming from a home office is not going to need the same rules as a national construction company with hundreds or thousands of employees. They are flexible in that they allow you to take an approach that is suitable for your business. For example, if you have fewer than five employees working for you, you do not need to have a written health and safety policy or risk assessment, although it is in your best interests to have one.

Control the risks

Preventing and controlling risks is a lot easier – and less expensive – than dealing with the aftermath of a workplace accident. The first thing that you should do is walk around and identify anything that may cause harm to anyone on your premises. It is also a good idea to ask someone else to carry out this task alongside you, as they may see something that you don’t. Once you have done this, you need to take reasonable steps to stop these risks from causing actual harm. For example, forklift trucks are an obvious hazard, especially if pedestrians have to work in the same area. Can you create a segregated walkway for pedestrians to use to avoid them colliding with the trucks?

You need to make a written record of these risks and what you are doing to prevent them. You don’t have to include everyday hazards, as these are assumed, and the Health and Safety Executive are also aware that not every risk can be controlled or avoided, but they ask you to take reasonable steps where you can.

Work with your employees

Like most areas of business, it is essential to work with your employees, consulting them and keeping them updated with your health and safety policy. It can be difficult for them to abide by it if they don’t have a copy of it or have been given training. It may be worth putting a clause in their contracts stating that any breach of health and safety is a disciplinary offence, as the buck ultimately stops with you.

Other things that you need to do

It is expected that you provide your employees with basic facilities, such as a working and clean toilet, sinks with soap and hot water, towels and/or a hand dryer and somewhere clean to sit and rest while they are on their breaks. It is also expected that you provide drinking water for your employees, whether through the taps or bottles. You should also make sure that you give enough space and ventilation for your staff, and that the working environment is maintained at a comfortable temperature – at least 16°c, or 13°c if your workers are physically active.

A smoking policy should also be put into place – legally, smoking is banned in all enclosed public areas and commercial premises and shared vehicles. Not implementing this policy can find you hit with a fine with up to £2,500.

You also need to have employer’s liability insurance to comply with the law. The only exception to this is if you run a business with no employees or a family business where every single employee is a close family member.

More HR and staff management and motivating your employees to follow workplace safety rules.

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