Health and Safety: A Guide for Small Business Owners

Health and safety is one of the most essential areas for any business to get right. Read our guide to find out how

Health and Safety: A Guide for Small Business Owners

It’s fair to say ‘health and safety’ isn’t the most fashionable of terms, conjuring up images of pedantic men carrying clipboards and an endless cavalcade of paperwork. However, it is not something to be dismissive of as a business – get it wrong, and the consequences can be extremely expensive.

In this article, you will find a thorough guide to what you need to know about health and safety as a business owner, covering your duties, what to do when there is an accident, and the steps you need to take to comply with the law.

Do I need to register as part of my health and safety responsibilities?

In general, recent changes in the law mean that you generally no longer need to register with the appropriate authority to comply with health and safety. This includes businesses like offices and shops that previously needed to register with the Health and Safety Executive.

However, a limited number of businesses may still need to register or obtain a license in order to comply with other regulations, such as when you plan to undergo construction or demolition work. A list of registration forms can be found on this page.

Who am I responsible for?

As a business owner, you are held responsible for the health and safety of everyone affected by your business. This doesn’t just mean your staff, but anyone who is on or around your premises and anyone affected by goods or services you sell – so it includes visitors, consumers and potentially other members of the public.

This means you need to take various steps to comply with the law, including developing a health and safety policy and make suitable arrangements for employee welfare – see below for an explanation.

You also need to undertake what’s known as a ‘risk assessment’, where you identify and take measures to nullify potential hazards to health and safety within your business. HSE has provided a guide to small and medium-sized businesses, covering what you need to do when conducting a risk assessment – click here for further information.

You must also have employer liability insurance in order to comply with the law – the only exception to this is if all your employees are also close relatives.

What special situations should I be aware of?

Some people are additionally protected under health and safety law, and you need to take additional steps when taking their needs into account.

Firstly, your health and safety (especially fire) arrangements need to take people with disabilities into account, and work out how you can accommodate them in emergency situations – for example, you need to consider whether your building has step-free access in the event of a fire.

You need to take special considerations into account when having young people (under 18) on site, for example taking someone on for work experience – more information can be found here.

You also need to carry out another risk assessment if you are dealing with pregnant women in order to avoid exposing them or their child to unnecessary danger – click here for further information.

If you run a catering or restaurant business, or any kind of business that serves food – either to staff or to the public – you need to register as a food provider with your local authorities’ environmental health service. Click here for a guide to registering.

Some businesses associated with particular hazards, such as construction or chemical engineering, face extra regulation from HSE. Find out whether any particular standards apply to your industry by clicking here.

How do I write a health and safety policy?

If you employ five or more people in your business, there’s no way around it – you must have a written health and safety policy. The policy should be a written document – usually a leaflet or similar – outlining your general approach to health and safety at the workplace.

The policy should also include the concrete steps you will take in order to comply. You need to appoint ‘competent persons’ to help with the implementation of your health and safety policy, which can be a trained member of your own staff or a consultant brought in from outside.

Remember that the buck still stops with you and the other directors of your company when it comes to liability for health and safety breaches, so getting this step right is essential.

The HSE has produced a guide to health and safety for business containing guidance on drafting a health and safety policy policy which you can find here.

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