A common misconception amongst small business owners is that Health & Safety regulations don’t apply to them. After all – the regulatory environment is so complicated and how many independent sandwich shops for example would have the resources to hire a health & safety consultant?
Unfortunately many of the regulations do apply to businesses of all sizes, and ignorance is not an excuse. I hope this article will act as a signpost to give a good starting point in researching health & safety requirements to determine how they apply to your business.
Someone in your organisation needs to take on the role of H&S manager as no organisation will pro-actively do this for you. If, after performing research, you believe the burden for your type of business is high, and don’t think you or other staff have sufficient knowledge or experience of H&S to effectively discharge this role, then consider hiring a staff member to fill that experience gap or hiring a temporary resource to solve that problem. Neglecting the issue will not help it go away, and you could be jeopardizing the safety of your employees whilst you procrastinate.
Understand Who Sets the Rules
In the United Kingdom, the government department responsible for health & safety at work is the Health & Safety Executive, commonly known as HSE. Some rules originate in the European Union as EU directives, which are then implemented in the UK as an act of parliament, or EU Regulations, which apply universally across the EU on their effective date. The legislation for health & safety is very complex. An umbrella ‘Framework’ exists at the EU level, which then supports a series of individual directives. These provide for a minimum set of standards for all EU nations, and the UK has incorporated these into English law.
Understand the practical requirements
From the perspective of a small business – all the applicable rules are communicated within the HSE guides, which you can find on their website. These take the form of leaflets and pdf files aimed at responsible business owners. These are written in plain English and designed to simplify the complex environment for non-experts.
The ‘Health & Safety made Simple’ guide covers the following areas:
- Writing a Health & Safety policy for your business
- Managing the risks in your workplace
- Consulting with employees
- Providing employees with training and information
- Providing the right facilities, including arrangements for first aid
- Displaying the health & safety poster
- Getting insurance
Identify gaps and take action
Becoming a student of HSE guidance is meaningless without taking action to correct for any shortfalls. As a small business – the likelihood of external inspections is virtually nil, however this does not affect the responsibility you have to your employees.
Building safety into your product
Separate from the laws and regulations for health & safety at work, but not to be forgotten – is the safety of customers. This could include clients visiting your site, or customers using your product. Lead by example by building in safety features to your product to help make the world a safer place. Take a leaf out of the book of Steroplast Healthcare (a manufacturer of First Aid and other medical kits), who have quite literally made safety their business!