Necessity is the mother of invention: Good ideas are often born in times of crisis and this has certainly been true during COVID-19. The sudden shock of the pandemic has triggered a surge in entrepreneurship across the UK. 315,000 new companies were registered during the first lockdown (up 7% on the same period in the previous year) and this trend continued throughout 2020.
This may be good for the economy, but if you are one of the start-ups, it’s important not to forget health and safety. While established companies only need to update their health and safety policies every so often, start-ups have to create them from scratch. This can be a daunting task, especially for a small company.
We’re here to help. Here are some of the main things to think about when starting a business.
What are my responsibilities?
When you start up, you may not have any staff. If you do though, or when you grow, you have a duty of care to your employees. This is set out in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 which stipulates that, as an employer, you must “ensure that, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of employees are protected.”
Another key piece of legislation is the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. They expand on the duties proscribed by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 with the aim of protecting everyone in workplaces and ensuring sufficient welfare facilities are provided.
The first thing you should do is appoint a “competent person” to take responsibility for your company’s health and safety. This person doesn’t have to have any formal training, but as the title suggests, they have to be competent: they should be able to recognise workplace hazards and suggest ways to mitigate them.
You can appoint yourself to this role or you can choose another employee. You may also appoint someone from outside the business if you prefer. Whatever you decide, this is a significant appointment. If you get it wrong there could be serious consequences.
Do I need a written health and safety policy?
All businesses with five or more employees must have a written health and safety policy. Directors and owners who are employed by their business should be included in this number. If you have less than five employees you do not need to write anything down, although it may still be useful and to your advantage to do so.
A typical health and safety policy contains three parts:
A statement of intent – This should set out your general health and safety policy and state your commitment to safety. You should sign this and review it regularly.
Responsibilities – You should list the names and positions of the people in your company who are responsible for health and safety.
Practical arrangements – You should describe the steps that you will take to achieve your aims. These could include carrying out a risk assessment or providing additional safety training.
Should I carry out a risk assessment?
Risk assessments underpin most health and safety work. The contents of your risk assessment will vary depending on the nature of your business, but it should always include the following:
- A list of potential hazards. This should include both immediate physical dangers, and any factors that could contribute to long term physical or mental illness.
- The steps that you will take to eliminate these dangers or reduce them as far as possible.
- The person or people in charge of managing each risk.
- A date when you will review the risk assessment.
Start-ups often grow quickly in the early days and this can bring new risks. If your business moves premises or takes on new employees, you should update your risk assessment accordingly.
Are there any specific regulations that apply to my sector?
As well as the general health and safety rules, companies that operate in certain sectors may need to comply with specialised regulations. Examples include:
- Safeguarding measures for businesses that work with children
- LEV (Local Exhaust Ventilation) precautions for businesses that work with dust or fumes
- Food Standards Agency regulations for businesses that make or serve food
There are many other industry-specific regulations, so make sure you check if any apply to you.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Health and safety is too important to get wrong. An early oversight can have serious ramifications down the line. Our experts can advise you on every aspect of H&S for your start-up or growing business, from creating a health and safety policy to writing a risk assessment. We can also provide specialised H&S training for new businesses.
Get in touch today to find out more.