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A guide to health & safety for new businesses

When setting up a new business, there are 101 things to do – and whether it’s through a lack of knowledge or just viewed as low priority, health and safety often takes a back seat.

Most of us aren’t health and safety experts, so you’d be forgiven for not knowing where to start. However, turning a blind eye and hoping for the best is never a wise move. Not only is your reputation at stake, but with rising health and safety fines, increased fees for Intervention and greater enforcement from the Health and Safety Executive, the financial consequences of falling short can be devastating.

We asked health and safety experts, Ellis Whittam, for their advice for small business owners, and here’s what they shared with us:

All employers, managers or owners have a legal duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and other people who might be affected by their business activities. The law does not expect all risk to be eliminated but does require that reasonable precautions are taken, and that staff are trained and aware of their responsibilities. Of course, protecting staff, volunteers and members of the public from harm is not only a legal requirement, but a moral obligation that all employers should take seriously.

New business owners should take the following steps to help create a safe working environment:

1. Prepare a written Health & Safety Policy

Under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA), if you employ five or more members of staff, it is a legal requirement to have a written Health & Safety Policy. This is broken down into three areas:

  • A Policy Statement of Intent, which details your health and safety aims and objectives, outlines how you intend to manage health and safety issues, and sets health and safety performance targets.
  • The organisation of health and safety, which states the names, positions and duties of those with specific responsibility for health and safety and summarises the duties of employees – namely to take ‘reasonable care’ of their own health and safety and the health and safety of others.
  • Arrangements for health and safety, which identifies your arrangements for managing and controlling health and safety risks, including your organisation’s health and safety rules and procedures, facilities, risk assessments, fire and emergency arrangements, and instruction, training and supervision.

You must ensure that your Health & Safety Policy is communicated to all staff so that everyone understands how to carry out their job safely and the role they play in minimising risk. It is also a good idea to get written confirmation from employees that they have read and understood its contents as this will offer an added layer of protection.

2. Identify and mitigate workplace risks

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, you must conduct a risk assessment to understand potential causes of harm within your workplace and take steps to reduce the likelihood of accidents and ill health. This can be carried out externally by an experienced Health & Safety Consultant or you can assess the risks yourself with the help of a standard risk assessment guide. Within the risk assessment, you should:

  • Identify possible causes of harm within the workplace and who may be harmed;
  • Evaluate the likelihood of that harm occurring given the safeguards you have in place; and
  • Put in place further safeguarding measures where necessary to reduce the risk to as low a level as ‘reasonably practicable’.

If you have five or more employees, you will need to record this information.

Risk assessments should be reviewed at least once a year and must be revisited after accidents, near misses, and when significant changes in personnel or work practices occur.

3. Provide staff training

The HSWA requires employers to provide whatever information, instruction, training and supervision is necessary to ensure, so far as is ‘reasonably practicable’, the health and safety of their employees.

This should begin at induction and continue intermittently throughout their employment. The type and frequency of health and safety training you deliver will depend on the level of risk and the severity of harm that may be caused.

There are various forms of training available depending on what works for you; in addition to classroom-based training, you may find it more effective to train employees on the job, or you may wish to consider e-Learning as a more flexible and convenient alternative.

Specific training should be provided to those with certain responsibilities such as first aiders, fire wardens and risk assessors.

4. Conduct a fire risk assessment

Fire safety is governed by its own legislation, but the fundamental duty for employers is to conduct a fire risk assessment.

Adopting the same approach as a general risk assessment, this will examine aspects of your workplace, including flammable materials and their potential to be ignited by various ignition sources, and evaluate how well these are being controlled.

It will also consider how people will be alerted to the presence of a fire and the efficacy of your emergency evacuation arrangements (for example, it is important that you ensure your fire exits and routes to the exits are kept clear at all times).

Changes in the layout of the building or its use can make a big difference to your fire safety plans, so it’s important to conduct a fire risk assessment review if any of these take place.

If you don’t have the time or expertise to conduct a fire risk assessment yourself, you will need to appoint a ‘competent person’ (for example, a professional risk assessor) to do this for you.

5. Appoint a competent person

By law, all organisations must have access to a competent person to support them in meeting the requirements of health and safety legislation.

Your competent person must be capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings or working conditions and have authorisation to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them. When deciding whether an individual can be considered ‘competent’, you should ask yourself:

  • Have they had relevant training, such as a course accredited by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH)?
  • Do they have practical knowledge and experience of managing health and safety?
  • Do they have the appropriate skills and technical ability to develop solutions to problems?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advise that if you are not confident in your ability to manage health and safety internally, you can appoint an external Health & Safety specialist to act as your competent person.

Prevention is better than cure

No business is exempt from abiding by health and safety legislation, and while managing health and safety may not be the most exciting part of running your business, it’s an area where you can’t afford to fall short.

When it comes to health and safety, it pays to take a proactive approach to minimising risk. Implementing practical measures, engaging with staff and adopting a common-sense approach will all contribute towards an overall better safety culture.

Remember, health and safety performance has an impact on overall business performance, so rather than treat it as an unwanted sideline, it makes sense to fully integrate health and safety into your overall business objectives.

How Ellis Whittam can help you

Ellis Whittam is a leading provider of unlimited, fixed-fee Health & Safety services. If you require hands-on support, our dedicated consultants will help you to build a safe and compliant working environment through practical solutions tailored to your business.

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