A guide to health and safety 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 etc 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 thing’s first, what is the Health and Safety at Work Act?

This act requires you to ensure the wellbeing 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 Health and Safety Executive (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?

As of October 2015, if you’re self-employed and your work doesn’t pose a risk to the health and safety of other workers, the health or the public, health and safety law won’t apply to you.

However, the HSE states that the law will apply if:

  • you are an employer
  • your work is specifically mentioned in the regulations, for example in construction, agriculture, railways, or you work with gas, asbestos, etc
  • your work activity poses a risk to the health and safety of anyone else

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 it’s 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 will be more likely to stay on the right side of the law.

Is there anything else I need to comply with?

Once you’ve conducted a risk assessment and 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 our Legal section from time to time, to stay up-to-date with any changes.

…and how does it impact on insurance?

If you’re a business with staff, employers’ liability insurance is likely a legal must-have. A public liability insurance 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.

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.

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