In business, a lot of principles are transferable across locations, industry and size. But when it comes to health and safety, some key variables can make a lot of difference. While large enterprise companies must focus on the scalability of solutions, SMEs have more room to tailor policies to their workers’ specific needs. So what should be included in a health and safety policy for small businesses?
Times are busier than ever, so it’s easy to put something like worker protection and health and safety on the back burner until some unknown time when things finally calm down. But for small businesses, making errors - however tiny - in this area can be a huge and incredibly costly mistake.
If anything, the smaller your operation is, the more critical it is to be thorough with your health and safety policy. The average fine for violations of HSE regulations is estimated to be about £120,000. That's a hit not easily absorbed if you're a fledgeling enterprise.
To avoid being struck with legal action from employees who have been injured as a result of lax health and safety procedures in the workplace, businesses should construct a robust and fool-proof policy that covers everything from PPE and regular training to social hazards and lone worker protection.
The 5 fundamentals of a health and safety policy for small businesses
Creating a health and safety policy doesn’t need to be complicated. Legally, employers must do everything they can to eradicate or reduce the risks that they and their employees face at work. Then, they must create a plan that will be executed should an incident occur.
First, you will need to conduct a risk assessment that identifies the main hazards that your workers are likely to face. These should include:
Depending on the industry that you operate in, there will be various risks posed by the environment in which you work. There are a series of questions that every small business should ask about risks in the environment:
- Are your workers at risk from accidents on the road?
- Do you have employees working at height?
- Is the working area free from items and debris that could cause slips, trips and falls?
- Is all electrical equipment regularly tested and maintained?
- Are workers required to lift and carry heavy objects?
- Are there hazardous substances such as chemicals nearby?
- Do employees have access to PPE where necessary?
This is not a comprehensive list. It does however give you an idea of the kinds of risks that need to be identified and addressed during the creation of a good health and safety policy for small businesses. With fewer members of staff, employees may also be spread out more and so need an extra layer of protection because of this.
If you do have employees working alone, you can download our lone worker risk assessment template.
Unfortunately, some risks don’t stem from factors in the environment but from other people. It’s estimated that 150 lone workers are attacked every single day, which amounts to 54,750 workers every year. If any of your employees can be classed as lone workers, then it is important to equip them with the tools needed to protect themselves. These can include:
- Adequate training in self-defence and de-escalation methods
- Protection devices such as lone worker alarms
- If possible, a buddy-system that ensures no one is working completely alone
- Regular assessments of workers’ mental wellbeing
Getting your fire safety right could well prevent disaster down the road, and to do this there are a few requirements dictated by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
- Ensure that equipment such as fire extinguishers, blankets and fire alarms are available and in good working order
- Confirm that all routes to fire exits are clear and signposted
- Identify hazards including sources of ignition, sources of fuel and sources of oxygen
- Determine who could be impacted or those particularly at risk
- Evaluate the risk of a fire starting
- Mitigate risks where possible
While health and safety plans do focus heavily on worst-case scenarios, there are a lot of things that employers can do to ensure the general wellbeing of their employees is being looked after. The following must be provided:
- Drinking water
- Comfortable temperature levels
- Clean working areas
- Ventilation from windows or air conditioning
- Bathrooms with sinks, soap and a hand-dryer
- Rest areas where employees can eat meals
- Suitable lighting
- Changing rooms if special uniforms are required
Write it down: If you employ five or more people, then your health and safety policy will need to be written down. This can take whichever form is best for your purposes but could be a leaflet, poster or document handed out to workers.
Educate: Your policy document should be clear and instructive enough that your employees are aware of the ways in which they need to comply with the regulations. You should also update it regularly based on the most up-to-date information.
If your employees all operate from a single location, then a poster within headquarters may be the best way to convey the information. If you have lone workers operating primarily out in the field, it’s important to ensure they are also brought up to speed with something like a leaflet. Training should also be provided.
Choose your person: Included in your policy should be the identity of the person or people who will be responsible for enforcing the new rules and regulations. This can be anyone within the organisation or even an outside advisor. For smaller businesses, it’s likely to be a single nominated person. Whoever you choose, they must be someone who is deemed ‘competent’ (i.e. knowledgeable and experienced) enough to carry out the task.
Legally, employers need to have liability insurance that can cover the cost of compensation should a civil case ever be taken out against you.
How can we help?
The workplace hazards that you need to deal with will largely depend on the nature of your business. For example, if you manage a few people in an office then precautions related to working at height likely won’t be something you need to look into. For someone running a small construction company, however, this should be a top priority.
The best thing you can do as a small business is to use common sense, speak with employees about their experiences, uncover where hazards might lie, and make sure you get the basics right.
To find out more about how Vatix can help your company make headway with its health and safety policy, or if you want to learn more about our services, click here or call us on 020 3820 1857.