Unless you are already in the industry, virtually no one starts a business with their primary focus on health and safety (H&S). But, by law, it must be one of those building blocks on which any organisation is built.
This is because the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) requires every business to have a health and safety policy. However, you only need to write it down if you employ five or more people. Even so, businesses with fewer employees may still find it worthwhile to do so. The focus it brings will help you think more deeply about the risks, and therefore make it easier for you to manage them. It also shows your staff (and maybe clients, customers, insurers, investors) that you take staff well-being seriously, and reinforces to them what they need to do themselves to stay safe.
So, assuming you want or need to write down your H&S policies and procedures, what should the document actually look like?
Health and safety policy document
There is not a completely off-the-shelf solution to a health and safety policy, because every business is different. However the structure of your policy may well look similar to others. The regulator – The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) – suggests three sections:
Statement of intent – This is your top level commitment to controlling health and safety and what you are trying to achieve. To give it the necessary gravitas it should be signed by the most senior person in the company.
Who is responsible – The document should go on to identify who in your company bears responsibility for the different areas of health and safety. At its most basic this might be the first aider and fire marshal. Include their name, position and role relating to health and safety. Or it may designate a more senior manager.
Health and safety arrangements – Now comes the detail. What are you doing to achieve your H&S aims outlined in the statement of intent? You will want to include how you identify risk, what the principal risks are, and how you manage them. Go-to approaches for these are risk assessments, employee training, signage and safety equipment.
Different policies for different types of business
Whatever sector your business is in, you will recognise that there is a huge range of risk profiles that companies may need to manage. Even a relatively low risk environment, like an office, may have to cover display screen equipment, fire safety, stress and mental health in their health and safety policy. Other businesses will have far more to contend with, such as working at height, working with chemicals and lone working to name just a few. These more complex risks are often covered by additional regulation which will need to be referenced in the policy.
When should you review your health and safety policy?
It is advisable to review your health and safety policy regularly at the best of times, but during the coronavirus pandemic it has become even more important to do so. The pandemic has raised issues such as COVID-security, mental health and display screen equipment associated with remote working, and lone working more generally, which millions of businesses have had to address in their H&S policies.
Indeed, given that the government has said that COVID-19 is a known risk that we need to plan to live with far into the future, we would advise that it becomes a standing item in every company’s health and safety policy.
Aside from the pandemic, other events which may spark a review include:
- Moving premises
- Hiring staff (particularly when you increase beyond the threshold of five)
- Offering new products or services
- Purchasing new equipment
- Adopting flexible working
Help with health and safety policies
You know your own business better than anyone else. It is perfectly possible to produce a good health and safety policy yourself. Some larger or higher risk businesses may have their own specialist in house to do so. What we can offer is an independent service for businesses who want an expert review, or to take on the work completely if you don’t have the time or expertise. Give us a call if you need some help developing or reviewing your health and safety policy.