Protecting yourself and others from injury or illness in the workplace is, or should be, a key business priority for the SME. A workforce that feels safe and valued will, in turn, be more inclined to observe a business’ interests. Equipping employees with the knowledge and skills to improve safety at work fundamentally makes for good business sense.
Health and safety legislation exists to protect both employee and employer. Business benefits include:
- Reduced working days lost due to illness and/or injury
- Better staff retention rates
- Increased productivity levels due to better staff motivation
- Improved company reputation
- Reduced insurance premiums
- Protection against potential legal action
In the UK, the Health and Safety at Work Act is the principal legislation governing matters of workplace health and safety and clearly sets out an employer’s duty of care for health and safety and employee welfare in a place of work. It requires employers to provide the necessary information, instruction, training and supervision that is appropriate to the field of work to ensure (so far as is reasonably practicable), the health and safety at work of employees.
This is further expanded upon by the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 which identifies situations where health and safety training is particularly important, for example when new employees start work, young employees who are a traditionally vulnerable group, on exposure to new or increased risks and where existing skills may need updating. While the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 and the Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996 further requires that you consult with employees (or their representatives), on issues of health and safety. Representatives appointed in accordance with either of these regulations should be entitled to paid leave for training in their duties.
Health and safety legislation does, however, limit the responsibilities of an employer to what is considered to be ‘reasonably practical’. In turn, this means that should the measure required for protecting staff (or the wider general public) is impossible to implement, or its associated costs are completely out of proportion with the inherent risk, then an employer is not required to implement that measure. Health and safety legislation further specifies that management employ ‘common sense’ in identifying risks and what should be done to manage those risks.
Conducting a risk assessment (and recording the findings) is a key requirement of employers with a staff of five upwards. This is largely straightforward in an office environment, becoming more complicated when considerable hazards, (which potentially affect the health and safety of employees) are posed – such as in manufacturing installations, chemical processing or power plants.
With legislation dictating that risks in the workplace must be managed, it is essential that an employer identifies these risks in order to be able to put in place measures to control them.
Assessing risk needn’t require substantial amounts of paperwork, but should be effected regularly so that any changes in the working environment are considered as a matter of course and potential hazards are spotted in a timely fashion.
The five stages of a risk assessment:
- identify hazards
- list ‘at risk’ employees and how they could be harmed
- evaluate the risks and choose precautionary measures
- record your findings and implement appropriate measures/procedures
- review your assessment regularly and update as necessary
Reviewing accident and ill-health is also to be recommended in order to identify the less obvious hazards/risks.
For organisations with five or over employees, conducting risk assessments and recording safety improvement measures is an absolute must. However, good record-keeping in this area is to be encouraged – even for those with fewer employees. Small businesses can download free health and safety templates from the HSE website.
A Moving Feast
As workplaces are never ‘static’, risk assessments should be regularly undertaken, specifically when new equipment, procedures or substances are introduced that could pose additional or new risk.
You should further ensure that your staff has undertaken the training necessary to their post. For small, low-risk businesses, free resources including videos and presentations could suffice to ‘tick boxes’ in this instance. Although for those businesses operating in higher risk environments, or with a bigger staff, you might want to consider accredited HSE training such as a NEBOSH, IOSH or sector-specific courses, or alternatively, have a consultant with relevant industry experience undertake a training needs analysis on your behalf.
Identifying and Categorising the Common Health and Safety Hazards
There are four main types of workplace hazards:
- Physical hazards (by far the most common)
- Ergonomic hazards
- Chemical hazards
- Biological hazards
Physical hazards are known to be the most common workplace hazards and are present in most workplaces at one time or another. Examples of physical hazards include: slips, trips and falls – including ladder and scaffold work resulting in potential falls from height; electrical hazards; unguarded or unsafe machinery including exposed moving parts; noise (constant loud noise); vibration.
Ergonomic hazards are dictated by the type of work, body position and/or working conditions which all serve to put a strain on your body. This type of hazard is more difficult to identify because harmful effects aren’t immediately recognised. Examples can include: insufficient lighting; workstations and chairs that are not correctly adjusted workstations; lifting; repetitive movements.
Chemical hazards exist when an employee is exposed to chemical preparation (gas, liquid or solid). Examples of chemical hazards include: cleaning products and/or solvents; fumes and vapours; carbon monoxide or other gases; gasoline or other flammable materials.
Biological hazards can result from working with people, animals or infectious plant material. The following are examples of biological hazards: blood and other bodily fluids; bacteria and viruses; insect bites; animal waste and bird droppings.
On the subject of First-Aid
In the UK, the ‘Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations’, 1981 legislates that employers have to provide for ‘adequate and appropriate’ first-aid equipment including facilities and training in order that any injuries illness can receive help immediately. What is considered ‘adequate and appropriate’ largely depends on the working environment/conditions within the workplace – which means it is important to undertake an assessment of first-aid needs in different areas of this business. Further ensure that you have the correct number of staff trained in first aid and that all training is up-to-date.
Two of a business’ most common mistakes in this area are; failing to regularly replenish the first aid box after use and ensuring that first aiders’ training meets current standards and/or is refreshed regularly (annual refresher training is recommended). Another overlooked area of essential first aid housekeeping is maintaining up-to-date records of any specific employee health requirements so that the appropriate training can be provided – diabetes, epilepsy and heart disease are a few examples here.
Implementing good health and safety principles needn’t be a costly or time-consuming exercise for the small business owner who will more often than not, reap the benefits of implementing standards and following good practice models. Most businesses will, in turn, witness a reduction in operating costs, (including lower insurance premiums); a reduced absence rate (as seen in the number of sick days lost); better staff retention and increased output or productivity when health and safety is embraced as an integral part of day-to-day business activities.
Stay tuned to our blog for further updates and advice on each of the four identified hazard areas.
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HSE Small business advice/tools
Key UK legislation can be found on the HSE website.