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

How do I provide for employee welfare?

Health and safety law says you must provide for your employee’s ‘welfare’ in the workplace –this is generally a common-sense requirement that you can’t let them go without basic amenities, although you should be aware of what it means in practice. In particular:

  • You need to provide enough clean and working toilets. These must include hot and cold water, soap, and towels or a hand dryer. You are allowed to use mixed facilities, as long as the toilets are fully private and lockable from the inside.
  • You must provide drinking water from your employees, either from the mains or in bottles.
  • You need to ensure your working areas are kept clean, and waste is regularly removed.
  • You need to maintain a comfortable temperature for your employees – HSE says this needs to be at least 16 ºC where your staff are sedentary (desk jobs) and at least 13 ºC where they are active. If the temperature is lower, staff should not be exposed for long and they should be given suitable clothing. You should also make thermometers available.
  • You need to provide adequate lighting in the workplace, both to minimise risks and to provide for employee welfare more generally.
  • You must provide enough space and ventilation for your staff – HSE says that this should be around 11 cubic metres per person. If your windows do not provide enough ventilation, you might need to invest in an air-conditioning or electronic ventilation system.
  • You must provide appropriate rest areas for your employees. What a ‘rest area’ actually constitutes depends on the nature of the work, although HSE guidance states that workers in active professions such as construction should at least have a room where they can eat and drink. In addition, staff who wear special clothing or uniforms need a changing area – and even in a normal office you must have somewhere to hang and dry wet clothes. It is also a legal requirement that pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding must be given access to rest facilities.
  • You must implement a smoking policy in line with the law – remember that smoking is banned in all enclosed public places and commercial premises. You can read up on your specific obligations in relation to smoking here.

What happens when an accident or emergency occurs?

First of all, you should have suitable first-aid facilities in place for when an accident occurs – the amount of kits and trained personnel you need should be considered when you carry out a risk assessment.

In addition, you should have emergency procedures in place, which again should have been developed as part of your health and safety policy.

If an accident occurs at work and is serious enough, RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurences Regulations) rules state that you must report this to HSE or your local authority. To find out which accidents you need to report click here.

Reportable injuries to workers or those that cause them to be off for more than three days must also be recorded in a log book, or using the HSE’s online recording form.

Where do I go for help and support?

Your local authority’s environmental health department will normally be in charge of enforcing health and safety for most business premises, including offices and shops.

Other specific workplaces such as factories that carry particular dangers are administered by the national Health and Safety Executive (HSE) the UK-wide body responsible for health and safety policy. The HSE Website has guidance on all of the topics covered above, and should be your go-to resource for detailed health and safety information.

For specific industries, your trade association may be able to help you with health and safety matters. The Trade Association Forum website will be able to help you find the industry body that applies to you.

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