As we approach the end of what has been a challenging year for small businesses across all sectors, savvy employers will be taking the opportunity to analyse this year’s performance and plan for 2021.
Whether you’re a startup or an established enterprise trying to keep your business moving forward in a rapidly changing world, health and safety should be top of your list of strategic priorities. Almost a year after the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the UK, the virus continues to disrupt our daily lives and weaken the economy. The health and wellbeing of employees have been pushed to the forefront of the agenda of every organisation and business. As a new vaccine is rolled out across the country, there is a glimmer of hope that the global pandemic will be behind us in the near future. But the importance of effective health and safety provision will remain.
If you want to reduce unnecessary costs, lower employee absence and turnover rates, boost employee engagement and enhance the reputation of your brand, read on to find out how to implement an effective health and safety system for your small business in 2021.
- Know the Law
Do your research or seek the advice of a reputable health and safety consultancy to ensure that you understand your responsibilities under health and safety law. How can you make sure your business is compliant if you don’t know what rules you need to comply with?
Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, business owners and employers have a legal duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and any other people who come into contact with their business – such as customers and suppliers. You must do what is “reasonably practicable” to protect the health and wellbeing of people affected by your business. This includes completing risk assessments, consulting with employees on issues relating to health and safety, providing workers with information, instruction and training on safe working practices and writing a health and safety policy. There may be additional provisions required under the law for your sector, for specific tasks being undertaken or for certain groups of people, for example, those with disabilities.
- Take out Adequate Insurance
Health and Safety law requires all businesses to take out adequate employers’ liability insurance and your policy must be provided by an authorised insurer. The only exception to this rule is for companies that have no employees or where all the employees are family members of the owner – note, that if you use volunteers or work experience students you still need insurance.
But what exactly is employers liability insurance and why do you need to purchase it (aside from the fact that you are legally obliged to do so)? The policy will cover you if an employee is injured or becomes ill. You will also get help with compensation claimed by ex-employees. According to the most recent figures released by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), workplace injury and ill health costs employers 3.2 bn each year and results in an average of 18 days sickness absence per incident. A hefty fine or successful compensation claim could destroy your business if you are insufficiently insured. Furthermore, the HSE can issue fines of 2,500 for each day if a business operates without appropriate insurance and a 1,000 fine for failing to display your employer’s liability insurance or to produce it for an HSE inspector.
- Appoint a Competent Person
Every business must have a “competent person” or people whose responsibility it is to ensure that the business complies with health and safety law. This could range from making sure wet floor signs are placed appropriately, to checking that people are wearing appropriate uniform, such as a welder wearing welding jeans to ensure sparks don’t burn them. There are no specific qualifications for this role, but those selected must have the experience and knowledge to recognise workplace hazards and implement preventative policies and procedures. If you have no-one within the business who is willing or able to fulfil this role, an external health and safety consultant can be appointed as your organisation’s competent person.
- Create a Health and Safety Policy
Businesses with five or more employees must produce a written health and safety policy. Smaller organisations do not need to create a written document but it’s sensible to err on the side of caution and make sure that everybody understands the expectations and processes for safe working practices.
Your policy should outline the company’s overall approach to health and safety as well as detailing the specifics of how this approach is implemented in practice, what monitoring and management systems are in place and what the process and schedule for reviewing the policy are.
- Complete Workplace Risk Assessments
Every business must assess the risk of injury and illness to employees and other individuals who may visit the site. Your responsibilities as an employer under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 are to identify workplace hazards and implement measures to mitigate these risks. This is likely to involve multiple risk assessments to cover different areas in the workplace and specific tasks, such as high-risk activities.
In addition to your existing risk assessments, you must conduct a COVID-19 risk assessment – or incorporate this into your existing documents – to identify and control the risk of the virus being transmitted between employees in the workplace.
- Consult and Train Workers
The Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 and the Health and Safety (Consultation and Employees) Regulations 1966 require employers to consult with their workers – or their representative – on issues relating to health and safety in the workplace. You should take this feedback into consideration when performing risk assessments, writing policies and planning safe working practices.
The consultation process should be ongoing and employees should be included in policy reviews and be invited to feedback on the effectiveness of health and safety provision at any time.
- Provide First Aid Support
Employers must provide adequate support to ensure that employees can access immediate help if they are taken ill or injured at work. This means providing a suitably stocked first aid kit, identifying at least one appointed person and circulating information about the support available.
- Establish a System for Reporting Accidents and Illness
Under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) employers are legally obligated to report certain workplace injuries, near-misses and work-related disease to the HSE. If you have more than 10 employees, you must keep an accident book and enter details of any workplace incidents.
Incidents that must be reported include deaths and injuries, occupational diseases, dangerous occurrences (certain near-miss events such as the accidental release of a dangerous substance) and gas incidents.
Health and Safety Legislation in the UK
Your obligations for safeguarding employees and other people affected by your business are set out in several pieces of legislation. The most important pieces of law to refer to are:
- The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
- The Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 and The Health and Safety (Consultation and Employees) Regulations 1966
- The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
- The Health and Safety (Training for Employment) Regulations 1990
- The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR)
Getting to grips with health and safety legislation can seem daunting at first but it doesn’t have to be. It’s worth seeking expert advice to ensure that you understand your responsibilities under the law and have effective policies, procedures and working practices in place to ensure compliance.
The consequences of non-compliance include crippling fees and compensation claims and a permanently damaged business reputation. Whereas the benefits of investing in health and safety for your business include reduced costs, increased employee morale and loyalty, fewer sickness absences and an enhanced reputation as an ethical and caring employer. Start planning for 2021 now!