Heath and safety: a guide for small businesses

As a small business it’s essential to get up to speed with health and safety, as a lax knowledge of the law could lead you into trouble.

Health and Safety guide

Here in the UK the main legislation you’ll need to be aware of is the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974). On the face of it relatively simple to abide by, its impact can be complex, so here’s a brief overview on the act and how to comply with it effectively…

First things first, what is the Health and Safety at Work Act?

This act requires you to ensure the well being of your employees, as well as anyone outside of your employment who may be affected by work activities. Essentially it demands you identify risk and then set about reducing it.

Now, delving deeper into the legalese the act states that you do not have to take measures to avoid or reduce risk if they are technically impossible, or if the time, trouble or cost of the measures would be grossly disproportionate to the risk.’

What the HSE are getting at here is ‘use your common sense’ - look at what the risks are and take sensible measures to tackle them. I.e. don’t feel the need to cover your employees from head to toe in bubble wrap.

However, don’t go too far the other way and get negligent as you work. Be prepared to sacrifice style and wear hard hats, hairnets and the like.

So, what constitutes as a risk?

Risks will vary from workplace to workplace and industry to industry – set about spotting the relevant ones for you with a risk assessment. A step-by-step process, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) explains more on this here.

I work on my own, do I need to do a risk assessment?

Yes. The HSE states that it is a ‘legal requirement’ for every employer and self-employed person to make an assessment of the health and safety risks arising out of their work.

However, there’s a caveat here in that only businesses with five employees or more will need to create a written health and safety policy after identifying risks.

What is a health and safety policy?

A written health and safety policy describes how you’ll manage and prevent risks, outlining to your staff and the wider world how you’ll commit to health and safety law.

Although this sounds daunting this is actually pretty simple – you can find the HSE’s guidelines and downloadable templates here. 

Treat these commitments seriously and back them up with action, and you and your business ought to keep on the right side of the law.

Is there anything else I need to comply with?

Once you’ve conducted a risk assessment and a constructed a health and safety policy, your business should meet its responsibilities quite naturally.

That said, it’s easy to overlook some things given the broad nature of the law so consider casting an eye over this article and using it as a checklist.

…and how does it impact on insurance?

If you’re a business with staff, Employer’s Liability is a legal must-have. A Public Liability policy is also a key protection to factor in.

All in all insurers take a reasoned approach towards health and safety, expecting policyholders to take the appropriate steps to meet their responsibilities.

They will not refuse to pay a claim purely because of a breach of health and safety regulations, nor will they withdraw cover mid-term in case of a mishap.

These guidelines come straight from The Association of British Insurers, so rest assured that you shouldn’t worry too much if you make a slight mistake. For more information check out their guide on the topic here.

Despite the negative press health and safety really isn’t too complicated. By applying a little common sense and knowledge of the law, you shouldn’t face too many problems. For more specifics on sticking within the law, refer back to our legal step by steps for startups.