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The basics of health and safety for small business

If you’re just setting up your small business, there’s a lot to consider. From business plans to budgets, you’ll also have to make health and safety a priority.

With so many rules and regulations to follow, it can be difficult to know where to start. To help, certification body QA International helps you nail down the fundamentals of health and safety, providing a better working environment for you and your employees.

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Write a health and safety policy

Drafting up your health and safety policy should be one of your first actions as a small business owner. If you have less than five employees, you don’t have to create a written record of your policy — although you still need to have one in place.

Your policy should outline your commitment to health and safety, describing who is responsible for what, when and how.

To help, templates are available online from the Health and Safety Executive that can help you successfully map out your commitments.

Carry out a risk assessment

Risk assessments are carried out to identify potential risks and help safeguard employees from them. They are not intended to remove every single risk from the workplace; a near impossible feat.

Examine all areas of your workplace to identify potential hazards. Consider the potential impact these can have, including the chance of an accident happening and who it could impact. You should talk to your employees directly. They use the equipment and work in the same area on a regular basis, so their insight could be greater than yours.

Once you’ve identified them, you’ll need to work out how to minimise the risks through preventative measures. You aren’t expected to see into the future and prevent freak accidents, but you are expected to stop those you can.

Again, if you have fewer than five employees, you aren’t obliged to create a written risk assessment. Remember to assess the risks those with special requirements or who work off-site or at home face too.

Provide staff training

Of course, it’s fruitless to implement a health and safety policy without delivering correct training to all staff members. There’s no hard and fast rule about how much training you’ll need to deliver, although it should be proportionate to the level of risk in your workplace. For example, an office will generally have fewer health and safety dangers than a factory.

In the majority of low-risk businesses, simple information and instructions are all that’s required. These should be simple to follow, so that all employees are fully informed especially in the event of an emergency.

All training you deliver should take place within work hours and you should request feedback from your employees. This will help ensure the guidelines are fitting and appropriate for the work carried out.

It’s not enough to just deliver initial training. You are expected to deliver refresher courses at regular intervals. Remember that new employees will need health and safety training, and those who are promoted to new roles may require a greater level of knowledge than they formerly did. Young and vulnerable staff members may need further attention too.

Ensure your facilities are up to scratch

Training is only one piece of the health and safety puzzle. You’ll need to ensure that you have the correct facilities to keep both staff and visitors safe. This can be broken down to three areas:

  1. Welfare
    • Toilets
    • Hand basins with soap and hand-drying facilities
    • Drinking water
    • A place to rest and eat
    • Somewhere to store clothing
    • Somewhere to change, if specialist equipment is required.
  2. Health
    • Your facilities should have:
      1. Good ventilation to provide a fresh air supply
      2. A suitable temperature (16°C as standard, or 13°C for active work)
      3. Suitable lighting
      4. Enough clean, workable space
      5. Containers for waste
  1. Safety
    • You must:
      1. Carry out proper maintenance on both premises and equipment
      2. Ensure floor and traffic routes are clear
      3. Make sure windows can be easily opened and cleaned
      4. Only use protected or specialist safety materials for transparent walls and doors.

Display the health and safety poster

Possibly one of the easiest stages of establishing your health and safety commitment is displaying the health and safety poster. This poster outlines the obligations for both employees and employers and should be displayed in a clearly visible place where all staff can see it.

If you’d prefer, you can provide the poster in leaflet or information card form.

Get employer’s liability insurance

To safeguard both yourself as an employer and your employees, you’ll need employers’ liability insurance. The only exceptions are if you do not have any employees or if your employees are all closely related to you. Each case should be considered on an individual basis.

If an injury or illness arises as a result of the work your employees do, they can claim compensation. By following the correct health and safety processes and ensuring you do all you can to prevent accidents, you shouldn’t have to pay compensation.

However, if a court finds you liable, this insurance cover will help you cover the costs.

There is a lot to consider when it comes to establishing a health and safety policy for your business. However, following these basics will help you lay the foundations to safeguard both your business and your employees.

For further information, view the Health and Safety Made Simple guide from the Health and Safety Executive.

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