The Complete Guide to Health and Safety for Small Businesses
Are you up to speed on the latest developments and laws related to health and safety for small businesses? If you need a primer, or just want to get up-to-date with the latest health and safety law, this guide will help. It's packed with useful information to help make your business a safe place for customers and employees.
- The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
- The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992
- The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998
- The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992
- The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992
- The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992
- The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995
- The Working Time Regulations 1998
- Manual handling
- Poor housekeeping
- Trip and slip hazards
- Hazardous substances
An Introduction to Health and Safety
The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HSWA) is the name of the legislation that covers health and safety in the UK. It's designed to keep you, your workers, your customers and other members of the public safe, and it's enforced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). It's usually fairly simple to follow the rules it sets out – especially for small businesses, and those deemed low-risk.
What does the term “health and safety” cover?
All members of the public have the right to feel safe when they interact with your business or your company's products. And all workers have the right to work in a place where risks to their health and their safety are properly controlled. Health and safety legislation helps to guarantee that all business are upholding these rights.
As the name suggests, the law covers the health, safety and welfare of members of the public who interact with your business and the people who work for you. It doesn't mean you have to remove every possible danger in your business entirely – just that you have to ensure that you've minimised the risk as much as is reasonably practical.
Why is health and safety important for small businesses?
Having the right health and safety in place isn't just important to keep your business in line with the law. It can also help keep members of the public and your team safe. Failing to meet the proper standards or carry out the right health and safety procedures could result in an injury or illness, and that could lead to a lawsuit against your business and a large fine.
If that happens, having the right insurance in place can save your business from a big pay out. If a customer, or other member of the public is hurt because of your business activities and decides to sue you, public liability insurance will cover the legal costs associated with the case. If an employee gets ill or injured because of poor health and safety while they're working for you, employer's liability insurance will cover legal costs, and the costs of any other compensation you need to pay. In most cases, having employer's liability insurance is a legal requirement if you employ people. While there's no legal requirement to take out public liability insurance, many business owners see it as an essential business expense. And it's required by many trade associations.
Creating a Health and Safety Policy for Your Business
As an employer, you need to choose someone competent to manage your health and safety assessments and ensure you're following the law – that could be yourself, or one of your employees. Whoever you choose doesn't need any formal qualifications, but it might help if you pick someone who does. Larger businesses, or those that are higher-risk (such as construction) that can't manage risk assessments in-house might want to think about getting advice from a health and safety expert. Remember, though, it's still your legal responsibility to manage health and safety for your business.
If you use an expert, you need to make sure they're competent, and have experience that's suitable and applicable to your business. Explain what you need clearly, give them all the details of your business, and they'll offer you specific advice about the risks in your workplace and how to safeguard against them.
You can use the Occupational Safety and Health Consultants Register (OSHCR) to find a consultant who can help you manage health and safety risks. Make sure they have evidence of relevant training and knowledge, and have the right insurance to cover you if they give you bad advice. Their advice should:
- be specific to the risks in your workplace, usually based on a physical visit to your site or sites
- be based on specific experience and knowledge of your industry and how you work
- focus on the action you can take to control the biggest risks
- not over-respond to smaller risks
- include reasonably practical recommendations to control risk
- avoid unnecessary paperwork
If you don't think the advice your consultant has given is right for your business, or think it might be overcomplicating things, speak to them to see if there's a simpler solution.
Below you'll find a list of the main regulations regarding health and safety for small businesses, and what they legally require you to do. Click on each one to find out more information.
Also commonly known as ‘Management Regs', these require you to:
- carry out risk assessments to the health and safety of your workforce, then act to reduce any risks you find
- appoint someone competent to oversee health and safety in your workplace
- provide your workers with the right health and safety information and training for their job roles
- write a health and safety policy and ensure everyone at your workplace reads and understands it
These require you to provide:
- facilities for staff including toilets, washing facilities and refreshment
- safe passageways – free of hazards that could cause slips or trips, for example
- an adequate workspace with adequate lighting, heating and ventilation – all kept in a clean condition
These require you to:
- make sure work equipment is safe and suitable for the job for which you provide it
- give workers information and training on how to use the equipment properly
- properly maintain equipment, no matter how old it is
- keep employees safe from dangerous parts of the machinery
These require you to:
- give workers the right information, training and instructions so they can use equipment properly – and safely
- give your workers suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) for free, anywhere that there are health and safety risks that you can't control in any other way. This might include gear such as safety helmets, air filters, ear defenders and protective footwear
These provisions mainly apply workers that regularly use a computer for a significant part of their working day. This includes anyone who uses a screen for an hour or more at a time, and/or use them on a daily basis. For these users, you need to:
- carry out a risk assessment for the workstations that screen-users work at, and reduce any risks you find
- give screen users the right health and safety information
- offer users adjustable furniture, like desks or chairs
- show that you're taking action to reduce risks associated with screen-use – things like repetitive strain injury
- make sure screen users take adequate breaks
- give screen users regular eyesight tests
These require you to:
- avoid the need for your employees to carry out manual handling activities that involve injury risks as much as reasonably practical
- give your workers information about how much each load weighs before they pick it up
- assess the risks involved in manual handling and do what you can to reduce those risks
These regulations require you to report a range of work-related incidents and illnesses to the HSE or your nearest environmental health department. You also need to keep an accident book to record the date and time of each incident, who was affected, their job role, what kind of injury or condition they have, and a note on what happened and where. You must report the following:
- specified injuries, such as fractures, eye injuries and severe illness that needs immediate medical attention
- injuries suffered at work that require someone to stop doing their normal work for more than seven days
- reportable occupational diseases, including things like repetitive strain injury, occupational asthma or dermatitis
- near-misses and other dangerous occurrences. Take a look at HSE's list of dangerous occurrences here
These regulations are designed to ensure workers get the right amount of time off in the form of breaks and annual leave. All full-time workers are entitled to 5.6 weeks of paid holiday each year – calculated pro-rata for part-time employees. For adult workers, the protections include:
- a 48-hour maximum working week – unless the worker has opted out of this voluntarily, in writing
- 11-hour minimum rest periods between – unless you've made shift work arrangements with them that comply with the Regulations
- a 20-minute break for every six hours of continuous work, which must be taken during the shift – not at the start or the end
Younger workers, aged 15 to 18, get extra protections including:
- a 30-minute break after 4.5 hours of work
- a 12-hour break in each 24-hour work period
- weekly rests of at least 48 hours in each seven-day work period
- a limit that stops them working more than eight hours a day or 40 hours a week. It's important to remember there's no opt-out for young workers
Common causes of accidents and how to prevent them
While risk assessments and good health and safety practice should ensure you avoid health and safety problems, it's easy for small issues to get overlooked and put members of the public and your team at risk. Here's how to catch some of the most common health and safety problems before they become bigger issues:
If your team are working at a height or lifting heavy objects, you need to make they have the correct training and the right equipment to avoid hurting themselves or others. Make sure your workers know the load of objects before they pick them up. And if they're working at height, make sure the equipment they're using is adequate, has been properly maintained, and integrates the right fall protection.
It's easy to slip into bad habits, like blocking fire escapes, leaving bulky items in passageways or stacking boxes near to sprinkler systems. These can all put the public and your workers at risk – and if the worst happens, it could have major effects for your business. New Look was fined the maximum penalty of £400,000 for endangering lives due poor staff training and blocking escape routes when its Oxford Street store was destroyed by a fire in 2007. And these issues are all fairly easy to avoid. Make sure you have adequate storage in safe locations around your sites and that your team is properly trained and take their responsibilities to keep these areas clear seriously.
Trip and slip hazards
The most common trip hazard in many workplaces is loose or uncovered cabling, such as power cords trailing across the floor. There are plenty of solutions, such as cable covers, to ensure these hazards are covered and labelled safely, to avoid anyone getting hurt. The other common hazard is slippery floors caused by liquid spills. To solve this, you could train someone on your team to properly and safely clean up any spills and ensure slippery floors are properly labelled to minimise risk.
If you use substances like cleaning chemicals at your business for any purpose, they can pose a risk to members of the public or your workers. But having the right processes in place for storing and disposing of them should help. You could set up a system for regularly reviewing your stock of substances, to ensure you aren't storing them for an unsafe amount of time or keeping more than you need. Ensure you label dangerous substances correctly and follow any risk assessments you've made.
Implementing Health and Safety Policies at Work
Every business is legally obliged to have a policy for managing health and safety for small businesses. These policies set out your general approach to health and safety, and explain how you manage it. It needs to set out who does what, when and how.
You'll need to have a written version of this policy if your business has five or more employees. Businesses with fewer than five employees don't have to have a health and safety policy by law, but it can be a good idea to do it anyway.
Once you've written your policy, it's up to you and your employees to ensure that the points you've covered and the plans you've made are adhered to. And legally, you need to share it with your employees – and let them know if you make any changes to it.
It's also your legal responsibility to provide toilets, washing facilities and drinking water for your employees, give them adequate first aid facilities, and have insurance that covers in you in case anyone gets hurt at work. Employer's liability insurance is a legal requirement for most businesses, and will cover you if an employee gets hurt at work and decides to take legal action against you.
What your employees need to know
You should send all your employees a copy of your health and safety policy and encourage them to read it through. If you've named particular people on your team in the document and given them specific roles, make sure they understand what they're expected to do, when and how.
You need to explain to your employees what risks are associated with their jobs, and how you're working to control them. If they need health and safety training, it's your legal responsibility to give them that training for free. And if they need any protective clothing or safety equipment, you'll need to give them that for free, too – and make sure it's all properly maintained.
Accidents in the Workplace
Even with a comprehensive health and safety policy in place, and regular checks to ensure you and your team are keeping your workplace safe for members of the public and you workers, accidents can still happen. The key is to make sure you respond to them properly.
In 2018/19, 28.2 million working days were lost due to work-related ill health and non-fatal workplace injuries. 581,000 workers sustained a non-fatal injury according to Health and safety at work Summary statistics 2019. And with workplace injury in 2017/18 costing up to £5.2 billion, you can see how important it is to have the right health and safety policy in place to avoid accidents from happening.
How to deal with accidents
Make sure you monitor the measures you put in place to control the risks in your workplace. If an incident occurs, you should investigate what happened, take steps to avoid it happening again, and share anything you learn to make sure everyone knows what not to do.
Simply doing an investigation into what happened isn't enough – you need to act on what you learn. If you do that, it can stop adverse effects in future. These include:
- accidents – events that result in injuries or ill-health
- near-misses – an event that doesn't cause any harm, but had the potential to cause injury or ill health
- undesired circumstances – a set of circumstances that have the potential to cause injury or ill health
- dangerous occurrences – specific, reportable events – these are defined in the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR)
Your legal responsibilities
It's your responsibility to manage the health and safety at your workplace and ensure that your workers are doing the same to keep themselves and members of the public safe. You need to train them properly to carry out any risky tasks, and ensure that all work environments are clean, tidy, and free from hazards.
Even with a comprehensive and well-implemented health and safety policy in place, accidents can still happen. If there are any serious injuries, major occupational diseases, dangerous occurrences or fatalities that arise out of, or in connection with your work, it's your responsibility to report them to RIDDOR. You can find further details on the type of incidents you are responsible to report under RIDDOR, here.