Health & Safety Advice Pack for Smaller Firms

Sheet 1: Why health and safety is important

Hazards at Work
Whatever sort of business you are, there is always the possibility of an accident or damage to someone’s health. All work exposes people to hazards, be they: loads which have to be manually handled; dangerous machinery; toxic substances; electricity; working with display screen equipment or even psychological hazards such as stress.

The Cost of Safety Failure
The reason there are not even more accidents and diseases caused by work is because systems of prevention are in place which have been built up over generations. Safety does not come about by accident: most accidents happen because they have not been prevented. Yet despite all the precautions that are taken in the UK, there are still over 600, 000 workplace injuries every year as well as 1.8 million cases of ill health caused or made more by work. (1)

In 2010/11 26.4 million working days were lost due to work-related illness and workplace injury. (1)

Even small businesses have accidents. Accident rates in small businesses can be higher than in large operations(for instance the fatality rate in SME manufacturers is twice that of large ones. (2)

Underlying Principles
Attention to health and safety is not just about being socially responsible. It also makes good business sense and you should regard it as just as important as the achievement of any other key business objective.

Of course, working out what modern health and safety law means for your business can be quite a headache. But don’t be put off. Yes, on the face of it there do seem to be a lot of regulations and there is a lot of supporting guidance, but the underlying principles are really quite straightforward.

Essentially you have to ensure absence of risk to safety and health of employees and others ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’.

  • System in place to Manage Health & Safety
    You have to have a system (e.g. have a policy, designate people and have clear procedures) in place to manage health and safety (and, if you employ more than five people, set this out in a written health and safety policy statement). You need to be able to show how you plan, organise, control, monitor and review preventative measures. And you need to appoint a competent person(s) to help you comply with your legal obligations.

  • Identify hazards
    You have to identify your main hazards (things that could cause harm).

  • Assess Risk
    You have to assess your risks (the probability that significant harm will occur) and again, if you employ more than five, record the results of your assessment.

    Risk assessment is the key to working out what needs to be done - but don’t make it over-complicated. Remember, although you have to do it by law, it is really only any use if it can be used as a working tool - to help you prove to yourself and your employees that you have identified the main things in your business which could cause harm and that you are doing everything you should to prevent that harm from happening.

  • Risk Control Measures
    You have to make sure that your risk control measures are adequate and that they are used and maintained and that they continue to work. (You also have to put in place any back up measures that may be needed like health surveillance or emergency procedures). And you have to inform, train and supervise employees.

    For the most part the law sets out certain health and safety goals to be achieved and indicates appropriate ‘benchmarks’ to help you work out whether your controls are up to ‘reasonably practicable’ standards. There is an underlying requirement to reduce or eliminate hazards at source, or isolate people from them (for example, by guarding machinery) before using other forms of control. Relying on the use of personal protective equipment - like respirators or protective footwear - is a last resort and is only acceptable when all other options have failed.

  • You also have to:
    • report and record accidents;
    • provide certain basic workplace, first aid and welfare facilities;
    • have employers’ liability insurance;
    • notify the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Local Authority of your existence;
    • consult your workforce and their representatives; and so on.

Risk Control Measures
For the most part the law sets out certain health and safety goals to be achieved and indicates appropriate ‘benchmarks’ to help you work out whether your controls are up to ‘reasonably practicable’ standards. There is an underlying requirement to reduce or eliminate hazards at source, or isolate people from them (for example, by guarding machinery) before using other forms of control. Relying on the use of personal protective equipment - like respirators or protective footwear - is a last resort and is only acceptable when all other options have failed.

Getting Started
If all this is new to you, where do you start?

Well, first of all, you need to get a good overview of the subject. Start with some basic reading such as free HSE leaflets (http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/leaflets.htm) or download a free copy of HSE’s ‘Essentials of Health and Safety at Work’ (http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/priced/essentials.pdf). You can visit the HSE web site “Health and safety made simple The basics for your business” which is for employers and those who want some basic information on what they must do to make sure their businesses comply with health and safety law.

Contact RoSPA (Tel +44 (0)121 248 2233) and consider going on a basic training course. RoSPA can also help with its ‘Health and Safety Review’ services for smaller businesses which can provide a comprehensive diagnosis of strengths and weaknesses in your management of health and safety (more information on Sheet 9).

You might also consider becoming a member [Membership] of RoSPA or joining a local RoSPA affiliated health and safety group (see Sheet 10).

‘Where Are You Now?’
Armed with the knowledge you have gained, try to answer the following questions: "When it comes to health and safety, where are we now as a company?" and "Where do we want to be this time next year?"

  • Start by looking at your firm’s health and safety policy statement. It should be the basis of your firm’s health and safety action plan.
  • Ask yourself whether you have an effective health and safety management system in place - in other words, a planned way of tackling problems.
  • Have you got clear policies and objectives for health and safety?
  • Have you organised key people to achieve them?
  • What training do they need?
  • Have you appointed a competent person to help you comply with your duties?
  • Have you identified your main hazards and assessed the risks involved?
  • Have you selected the right control measures to tackle these main risks
  • Are they adequate or do you need to do more?
  • Are they actually being applied in practice?
  • Are you monitoring progress - for example, by inspecting the workplace regularly or investigating accidents and ‘near misses’ - to learn from your mistakes?
  • Have you set a date to review your health and safety performance against your plans?

Working Together
Although if you are the person in overall control of your business, ‘the buck stops with you’, you cannot achieve a safe and healthy working environment on your own. It has to be a team effort and you need to consult your employees and, where appointed, their safety representatives. You need to get proper health and safety co-ordination going with other businesses with which you come into contact such as clients, customers, suppliers or contractors. You need to build ownership and commitment to safety throughout your workforce.

Don’t Delay - Get Started Today!
Above all, you need to remember that besides protecting people and the environment, action on health and safety can also make a major contribution to business success. Not only will it help stop accidents and work related ill health among your staff, but it will reduce your accident losses, improve your profit and loss statement and help you become more efficient. Don’t think accidents and occupational ill health can’t happen in your company. Above all don’t wait for things to go wrong and then go for the ‘quick fix’. Build health and safety in from the start. Don’t delay - make time and space to get started today!

References

  1. Health and Safety Executive Annual Statistics Report 210/11 (www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/sources/index.htm)
  2. Making an impact on SME compliance behaviour: An evaluation of the effect of interventions upon compliance with health and safety legislation in SMEs, Prepared by Kings College London for the
    Health and Safety Executive 2005 http://www.hse.gov.uk/research/rrpdf/rr366.pdf

*RoSPA cannot be held responsible for the accuracy or completeness of any pages on linked websites.

Page Ref. No.: OS00014 / Date Created: 2002 / Date Updated: 09/02/2012 / Author: RB/CH

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