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

Do I need to train my employees in health and safety?

You need to provide appropriate information and training for all members of staff. When inducting new employees, it is standard to deliver a health and safety briefing, which should also cover the particular risks to employees who will be working in hazardous situations.

If your working practices change or you introduce new machinery or equipment, you need to undertake a further risk assessment and give your staff the appropriate additional training.

As you are legally responsible for health and safety breaches committed by your staff, you should include provision for health and safety in their contracts – in particular, you should make behaviour that breaches your health and safety policy a disciplinary offence.

Your employees also have the legal right to be consulted about issues which affect them, including health and safety. It might make sense to set up a health and safety committee, if your organisation is large enough.

What health and safety information do I need to provide for my staff?

As an employer, you must display at least one copy of the ‘Health and Safety Law: What You Need To Know’ poster, which is available from around £7 from the HSE website. You can download, print and display the corresponding leaflet for free.

You must display appropriate safety signs where there are particular hazards – for example, slippery surfaces or dangerous chemicals.

More generally, you must keep staff informed about the potential risks to their health and safety, and the steps you are taking to control them.

What fire precautions do I need to take?

In relation to fire hazards, you need to take additional steps to assess and nullify potential risks, laid down in a piece of legislation called the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. This says that your building must have:

  • Clear escape routes to a place of safety
  • Firefighting equipment such as blankets and fire extinguishers
  • Fire alarms
  • Fire-resistant doors and windows
  • Emergency lighting
  • Safe storage of dangerous and inflammable materials
  • Appropriate staff training

If your building or office lacks any of these, you may need to make alterations, or you risk being in breach of the regulations. You (or a ‘responsible person’ within your company) also need to carry out an additional ‘fire risk assessment’, which should follow a five-step process:

  • Identify possible fire hazards
  • Identify specific people who might be at risk
  • Evaluate these risks, and take steps to deal with them
  • Draw up an emergency plan for dealing with fire, and train your employees in it
  • Review this process regularly – especially if you make changes to your premises or equipment that might increase the fire risk

What particular hazards should I take into account when carrying out a risk assessment?

Carrying out a risk assessment can seem onerous and confusing, but for most firms in the commercial, service and light industrial sectors, the hazards will be few, obvious and simple. Generally, a common-sense approach with regard to a few specific hazards will prevail.

As well as any general hazards you identify as part of your risk assessment, there are particular considerations you need to take into account.

One of the largest sources of risk comes from devices and equipment you have at work, including machinery and electronic devices. When assessing risk from work equipment, you need to:

  • Understand that specific regulations apply to dangerous equipment
  • Inspect and properly maintain all electrical equipment – find out more here
  • Put procedures in place to ensure employees working with screens (known as VDUs in health and safety parlance) are given given regular breaks to avoid over-exposure
  • Suitable equipment and training needs to be provided if otherwise employees would regularly be carrying heavy loads manually
  • When buying new equipment, you must satisfy yourself that it is safe – buying certified equipment from within the EU will normally satisfy this requirement

In addition, you must make sure that you provide a ‘safe and healthy environment’ for employees to work in. This is generally seen as a common sense provision; employees should be able to work in a comfortable environment that is well-lit, easy to navigate around and not dingy or dirty.

In particular, HSE says that desks should be ‘suitable’ for the people using them, and chairs should provide sufficient back support and comfort. Additionally, you need to get rid of potential obstacles to moving around, such as wires and boxes. HSE also requires you to look out for employee welfare more generally – we deal with this in more detail below.

Special regulations also apply to dangerous substances under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) regulations – in a normal office environment this won’t normally be relevant to you, although some substances such as printer toner should be appropriately labelled and securely stored.

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