Protecting your employees in the workplace often sounds like a daunting task but doesn’t have to be difficult so long as you follow a few basic principles.
When starting out, there are four steps to building your first health and safety policy – completing each one will help raise standards across your business, keeping your workers safe, and helping you avoid prosecution.
1. Understand the Basic Legal Requirements
Every workplace activity is regulated by the Health and Safety Act (1974) which lays out your duties as an employer. This is a heavyweight piece of legislation that has become the template for workplace laws across the world – including those handed down from the EU Commission.
Fortunately, the law is based on common sense, and most of your duties are distilled into a single phrase; “to ensure so far as is reasonably practicable the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees.”
Which means that you have to identify risks to your workers, those not in your employment but who might be affected by your activities and the general public, and take reasonable steps to minimise them.
2. Get Professional Advice
As a business owner and employer, you might be familiar and knowledgeable with your staff, processes, equipment and environment, but often business owners can be too close to see problems or their seriousness. Worse still, they can be too close and familiar with people who have always done things a certain way.
Just because it’s always been done a certain way doesn’t mean it’s right or appropriate in a modern age, or ever was right. You might have been lucky.
Employers need a fresh pair of eyes to help them see problems and keep compliant.
In fact the law requires it. Under the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations, every employer is required to appoint one or more competent persons to assist him in discharging his duty .
The competent person may be an employee or outside consultant, but preference leans towards an in-house appointee backed by external expertise.
The competence of the appointed person is judged in terms of their training, knowledge and experience of the work involved, not necessarily qualifications. But again, qualifications always helps as relevant knowledge is a powerful tool.
In simple situations it may involve knowledge of relevant best practice and accepting when to ask for professional help. In more complex situations, fully qualified practitioners may be required.
This way you have both eyes and ears on the ground from somebody who is familiar with your operation and industry, backed up by experienced practitioners who can help interpret the law and offer best practice guidance to fulfill your duties towards protection.
Additionally, an outside consultant can assist you in drawing up a series of Risk Assessments that tick all the boxes required by law and mitigate the dangers from potential Health & Safety minefields.
3. Education, Provision of Information & Training
Effective risk assessments and appropriate control measures are key to a good start when putting together your Health & Safety plan.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) and collective protection measures will help you fulfill the majority of your duties as an employer.
However, none of these measures are worth anything unless your workers know how to carry out their duties safely.
This means instructing and training them to use tools and equipment safely, work in a safe manner that not only protects themselves but also those around them and makes the workplace as safe and calm as it can practicably be.
A well-educated safe workforce will reduce the potential for injuries, help to keep productivity levels up, and be an overall happier and calmer environment.
At the end of the day, everybody has the right to return home to their family in the same condition they left them to go to work that day, and this is the whole point of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974.
4. Review your procedures and controls
Situations change constantly.
Your staff may change, your location may change, you might open up a new division or introduce new machinery and equipment.
As your business and projects evolve, so your risk assessments, controls and procedures will need to be revisited to ensure they continue to provide the protections your employees need.
And even if you feel that your business hasn’t changed, the law still requires you to reassess them due to passage of time.
That way they don’t simply become paper documents gathering dust on a shelf in the accounts’ office, but instead become live working documents that help you run your business safely and productively.
Whether you as the business owner reviews them, your employees, or your consultant – it doesn’t really matter, just that they have a good understanding of health and safety in your workplace, and that they are reviewed as often as required.
1). Understand the general duties that employers have towards employees, members of the public and anybody else who might be affected by the company activities, and the obligations employees have towards each other. Identify the risks involved by carrying out a risk assessment and applying controls to mitigate those foreseeable risks.
2). Get competent assistance so that you can discharge your duties and stay compliant with the law. As a business owner or director you need to have a reasonable understanding of your obligations towards keeping people safe. However, you can’t know everything so you need competent advice. In fact the law requires it.
3). Educate and protect your employees. The best way to prevent avoidable accidents is to educate people about the dangers, and involve them in the control procedures. Once people understand the reasons for doing something a particular way and have been involved in the process then they become an advocate and champion for its cause.
4). Review your systems and controls. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking risk assessments are a paper exercise that once done can be filled away. Business and operations are a constantly evolving process that requires monitoring and updating. By monitoring your controls and procedures the business becomes more effective and once again you are complying with the requirements of the law.
By adopting these four basic principles, not only will you have a good grounding in workplace health and safety but you will have also adopted the basic drivers for good health and safety management. These being moral, legal and financial reasons, which should be the foundation stones of all good business.