Managing health and safety

Health & Safety LawAccording to the British Safety Council, more than 5,000 people died in safety accidents some 60 years ago throughout the UK. When you consider that in 2016, this number had been reduced to 144, you can see the far-reaching impact of health and safety provisions on the country.

If there’s one thing that you learn very quickly as an employer, it’s that health and safety procedures are crucial to running a successful business. You must look after your employees because it’s the law, and if you try to cut corners by not putting the proper information and procedures in place, then the ramifications are serious.

It also makes sound business sense to look after your workforce so you can ensure that everyone feels supported, allowing you to get the best out of your staff.

Managing health and safety

Planning for managing health and safety starts with a legally required policy stating how you intend to meet your obligations. By carrying out a risk assessment of workplaces, tasks and risks, you can analyse where potential problems that may exist.

Consult with employees, who have a keen interest in their own wellbeing and first-hand knowledge of the issues in their work area. Draw up a policy that includes a commitment to information and training. Measure the outcomes, and use these to learn from your experiences and, where necessary, put new or updated measures in place.

Preparing the policy

The easiest way to develop your health and safety policy is to set it out in three sections, although you do not have to write the policy down if your business has fewer than five employees. Keep in mind that you want to keep your workers safe – this is a legal requirement, and there can be serious penalties if you break the law. You could also face liability for damages if an accident occurs that could have been preventable.

  • Developing the policy: Your policy sets the parameters for your commitment to the effective management of health and safety issues. It also outlines what you want to achieve.
  • Assigning responsibility: This section names the responsible party for specific actions.
  • Making arrangements: Following the establishment of your policy, the arrangements section details what you will do in practical terms to ensure that you meet your commitments.

Identifying hazards and risks

Most businesses have hazards that need identification due to the possibility that they could cause harm to people. These hazards include working at heights, electricity and toxic chemicals as well as slippery floors, outside work areas, using machinery and vehicles.

Risks are the chances that one of these hazards could cause harm, and whether these risks are large or small in nature, you should include them in your overall health and safety policy. No area of work – as, indeed, no area of life – is without risk. But in the same way that you would look carefully before crossing a busy road to mitigate the risk of danger, so your policy should take account of all the potential risks on your site.

Developing the arrangements

There are often very simple and straightforward steps that you can take to cut down the risk of harm to your staff. These will have costs attached but are an added insurance policy that will help keep everyone healthy and safe.

  • Training staff

There should always be at least one person responsible for health and safety matters, and professional training needs to be available. It’s also essential that there are enough personnel trained in first aid so that there is always someone to call on in case of an accident or emergency.

  • Signage

Signs used to highlight risks are a simple, effective and inexpensive way of flagging up onsite hazards, and your risk assessment procedure will call attention to areas where signage is required. They are also vital if you have vehicles and pedestrians on site. A health and safety poster at work will serve as a useful and educational reminder for employees. In fact, The Health and Safety Information for Employees Regulations 1989 (HSIER) requires organisations to display the approved Health and Safety Law poster in a prominent position in each workplace, or to provide each of their workers with the equivalent leaflet.

  • Safety equipment

Under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) there is a duty to maintain work equipment. Depending on your business, you may want to improve the equipment that you have to offer a safer environment. Your risk assessment will show whether you need guard railing for preventing falls, anti-slip flooring to reduce the risk of slips, and PPE such as safety boots, goggles, breathing equipment or high visibility clothing where you need to protect workers in hazardous environments where risks cannot be eliminated.

  • Hazardous substances

There are procedures where employees use hazardous substances, but you can investigate whether you could replace some or all of these with less harmful alternatives.  

  • Improved lighting

With poorly lit working areas comes an increased possibility of workers tripping on something that they are unable to see clearly or injuring themselves on sharp corners. Improving lighting not only helps counter these problems but also leads to a more conducive atmosphere for work.

Employee consultation

It can often be your employees who are best placed to understand and identify the risks posed and safety equipment needed in their working areas, so regular consultations with them are likely to make a real difference to their health and safety.

If your workplace has a trade union, then there will be union health and safety personnel who can flag up issues that affect the health and safety of the workers whom they represent. If you have a non-unionised business, then you can either consult with elected representatives or directly with the workforce.

It’s important to listen to feedback from employees and take account of their views before deciding on new or upgraded health and safety provisions. This way, you will understand the risks that arise from their work and can put proposals into place to control and manage these dangers. In addition, you should ensure that you make important information and training opportunities available and that representatives know what to do if your employees face exposure to risks.

Preventing ill health and injury

The Health and Safety at Work Act, created in 1974, is responsible for putting the interests of employees in the workplace high up on the agenda, and regulations and guidance made under it have increased over the years.

Safety has always appeared to be the primary driver of policies, but the issue of health has recently become more evident, as poor health can make a significant difference in how effectively – and safely – a workplace can operate. Also, according to the British Safety Council, mental health issues and musculoskeletal disorders are the reasons for more than half of days lost in terms of ill health. Failing to protect the health and safety of your employees can be potentially very costly.

Employers are becoming far more aware that good health is as important as good safety in the workplace and that engaging with employees can bring benefit not just to them but also to the overall business. Understanding the problems that some workers face in terms of their mental health as well as the physical issues caused by poor lifting techniques or just sitting in a bad position at a desk all day can inform you on how to best address these problems.

No workplace will ever realistically be 100% safe, but you can do plenty to offer the safest environment as possible to mitigate these risks.

Disclaimer: The information provided through Legislation Watch is for general guidance only and is not legal advice. Legislation Watch is not a substitute for Health and Safety consultancy. You should seek independent advice about any legal matter.

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