Making health and safety a business priority for 2010

Health and safety is both a vital business responsibility and a point of perpetual contention. As a business owner, you have a series of important obligations when it comes to the health and safety of your employees and members of the public.

There is concern that health and safety has been sidelined during the recession, as businesses seek to cut costs wherever possible. The government has apparently been particularly wary of slips in standards in the construction industry. Construction firms have been very badly hit by the downturn, and it is thought that some may have taken shortcuts in order to keep their costs down.

But it is not just the construction industry that has health and safety responsibilities. All business owners must ensure that they are aware of, and in compliance with, their legal obligations. You will have a number of general responsibilities but, depending on the nature of your business, you may also have to contend with various industry-specific regulations. These are particularly prevalent in high-risk sectors.

Regardless of the economic situation, it is vital that you comply with the relevant health and safety regulations. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has already stressed that financial pressures will not be seen as a reasonable excuse for failing to meet your legal requirements, and that it will clamp down as usual when it observes non-compliance. As such, you should ensure that you start 2010 by firmly positioning health and safety at the heart of your business.

General responsibilities

All firms, regardless of size, have a number of general health and safety responsibilities. It is important that you are aware of your obligations. To begin with, if you are setting up a new venture for 2010, you should investigate whether or not you need to notify the HSE.

The rules on notification changed in April 2009, and most firms now do not have to inform the HSE of their work. However, if you operate in a so-called ‘hazardous industry’ such as construction, or if you work with hazardous materials, you may have to contact the Executive to apply for a license.

You must also appoint a ‘competent person’ to help ensure that you are in compliance with your health and safety responsibilities. There is no necessity for this individual to be a third party professional; indeed, you could appoint yourself. But you must nominate at least one person who will take charge of developing a comprehensive health and safety policy.

Health and safety policy and risk assessment

Every business must also draw up a health and safety policy. This is the document that sets out your overarching strategy for managing health and safety. It will outline who has responsibility for what, and will cover all parts of the business.

Your health and safety policy will be a unique document; as every business is different, it is not possible to use a standard-format policy. However, there are example policies available on the HSE website, along with guidance on how to put the document together yourself.

You must also ensure that you carry out a regular risk assessment. During this process you will consider any hazards that exist in the workplace, and develop strategies to remove or mitigate the risk associated with these hazards.

Get the right business insurance

If you are an employer, you have a legal responsibility to take out Employers’ Liability Insurance. This will cover you against compensation claims made as a result of injury, illness or death suffered by an employee as a result of their job.

Many firms have found that the direction of their business has changed over the past year, in an effort to keep up with the rapidly changing economic landscape. If the nature of your work has changed, you must check to see that your insurance is still valid.

Industry specific regulations

It is likely that you will have to abide by various regulations specific to your industry. Inevitably, firms operating in sectors that are judged to be high-risk will have more stringent guidelines to which they must conform. The Health and Safety Executive website provides sector-specific information for new and existing firms that wish to understand their responsibilities.

Ensuring the health and safety of your employees and members of the public is one of your most pressing tasks as a business owner. Aside from the legal obligation, compensation claims arising from health and safety breaches can be enough to bankrupt a firm. As such, you should make sure that health and safety is placed at the very centre of your organisation.

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