As an employer you are required by law to comply with your duties for managing health and saftey in the workplace under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
Part 1 of The Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 requires employers to take all reasonably practicable steps to safeguard the health, safety and welfare of employees, self-employed workers and anyone else who comes into contact with your business. This includes anyone visiting your premises and members of the public.
You are required as a minimum to provide employees with adequate facilities such as toilets and places to rest and eat. You must also ensure your working environment is sufficient regarding basic amenities such as lighting, heating and ventilation.
Your premises and work equipment must be properly maintained to ensure the safety of your employees, and you must have appropriate measures to deal with accidents and illness, such as a suitable first aid box and an appointed first aider. You must have insurance and have the 2009 update of the Health and Safety in the Workplace poster (or alternative pocket cards) displayed on your premises.
Alongside these duties, you must also ensure you take sufficient action to identify and protect against risks in the workplace.
Managing workplace health and safety risks
Health and safety risks in the workplace involve any hazard that has a likelihood of causing harm to people in the workplace environment. This can be anything from chemicals to blind spots in a corridor.
There are certain measures you are required to take to manage risk in the workplace effectively. You must:
- Carry out a risk assessment
- Give your employees information about any risks
- Tell employees how they are protected from that risk; and
- Train employees against the risk
Carrying out a risk assessment
As an employer, you will need to appoint a competent person with the necessary skills and knowledge to help you manage your health and safety responsibilities.
You can appoint an existing member of staff; however, if your health and safety duties are more complex (such as working at heights), you may need to seek external help to ensure you are meeting your duties.
A health and safety risk assessment, conducted by the relevant, competent health and safety individual, should be used to identify any hazards or risks that may cause harm to anyone in the premises.
You then need to consider who may be harmed by the hazard and how the hazard might affect them.
Alongside employees and any other people that may be in contact with your workplace such as contractors, freelancers and agency workers, you should take special account of certain groups of people including:
- People returning to work after an illness
- Pregnant people
- People with a disability
- New recruits
You should think about how those risks may affect those people specifically and assess the significance of that risk to them.
You finally need to evaluate all of the identified hazards and assess whether it creates a significant risk to the health and safety of your employees.
If you work on different sites, you should undertake a new assessment for each site, and if you share your business premises with another employer, you must inform them how your work may affect them, and work together to reduce risk.
If you have more than five employees, you need to record your risk assessment findings and review and update it on an ongoing basis.
Ongoing awareness of changes in the workplace is crucial to deciding whether your risk assessment needs to be updated. Particularly where there have been any significant changes such as new staff or equipment, accidents or illnesses, or where employees have made you aware of a problem.
Risk assessment records
In accordance with health and safety legislation, in order to comply you need to record the following:
- That you carried out a proper check of your premises
- That you considered all the relevant people who may be affected by hazards
- That you have assessed all the significant risks
- That the precautions you have taken to minimise those risks are reasonable
- That any risk that remains is low
Your risk assessment should be reviewed on a regular basis, but particularly where there has been a significant change; such as a change in the environment or with the position of employees within the company.
Informing employees about risk
Part of your duties to ensure compliance with health and safety in the workplace is to inform your employees about the risks within your organisation.
You need to tell your employees what the risks are in your organisation, how they are controlled, and who is responsible for health and safety in the workplace.
Although you are not legally obliged to document a health and safety policy if you have less than five employees, it is still a good idea to have one so that you and your employees have something solid to refer to and you can make sure you have communicated the same information to all the relevant people.
Making your health and safety policy clear and accessible is the first step to ensuring your employees understand the health and safety risks within the workplace; however, you should also make sure you provide relevant, comprehensive health and safety training.
The Health and Safety at Work Act says, as far as is reasonably practicable, you need to give any information, supervision and training necessary to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees.
You are free to choose the content and type of training you provide, and the training can be done in-house. You may not feel confident in carrying out the training yourself, in which case you will need to appoint somebody competent to help.
Be sure to record and monitor any employee training carried out, including which members of staff were trained and when. In the event of a workplace incident, a record of training helps to demonstrate your compliance with your duties as an employer.
The training you choose needs to be effective and relevant for the needs of your business, taking into account considerations such as the results of your risk assessment and previous experience of accidents, illness or injury in your workplace.
Training should educate your employees as to how to do things correctly, what they should and shouldn’t do in a given situation, and to provide information to ensure they can work as safely as possible.
Training can be given in various forms including on the job training, classroom learning or online or distance learning. You can implement group training or individual learning, but you should ensure that all employees can understand the training (taking into account disabilities or language barriers etc.) and that the training is tailored to focus on the priorities of your business.
All members of staff will need sufficient training, and that includes all management, self-employed contractors, agency staff and you. Training must take place within work hours, and you cannot ask staff to pay for training.
Minimising health and safety risks
You need to take all reasonably practicable steps to minimise risks in the workplace and protect people from harm. You should calculate the level of risk against the precautions you need to take to protect people from it, to ensure the action is proportionate.
This can range from removing the hazard altogether where possible, to issuing personal protective equipment where needed. It can also be smaller things such as warning signs and appropriate positioning of equipment etc.
You should consult with your employees on health and safety matters, as this can help you to identify things that will benefit their safety the most.
Why legal advice helps
What is considered reasonably practicable is dependent on specific circumstances so it may not be clear without experience to assess whether the steps you have taken will be sufficient to protect your workforce and to defend against legal action should an accident occur. Seeking expert legal advice can help you to avoid common pitfalls in your health and safety management and ensure you meet your legal duties.