When did you last review your health and safety policy?

3 September 2019

Compliance with Health and Safety regulations is often seen as a pointless chore, especially in apparently low-risk workplaces, but ignoring the issue could lead you to lose your business, whereas doing it conscientiously may enhance your reputation with both employees and customers.

Common sense and myths

A few weeks ago a client sent a couple of employees to install some bulky equipment in the offices of a large, well-known logistics company. The employees reported later that they had not been allowed to carry out the installation until they had received a half-hour briefing on the company’s health and safety policy, which they thought was fair and reasonable. On the other hand, they were a little perplexed by some of the rules, which included a prohibition on descending the staircase without holding the handrail, and another on carrying more than one hot drink at a time out of the kitchen. Unfortunately, excessively detailed regulations tend to lead to a general contempt for the rule book, and those that delight in propagating urban myths seem to find health and safety a fruitful field; we have all heard myths about employees being banned from putting up Christmas decorations, and children having to wear goggles when playing conkers.

Ignoring the risks

Even if your workplace appears to hold few dangers for the employees – no heavy machinery, no staircase, no aggressive chemicals – you cannot afford to ignore H & S regulations. On average in the UK 595,000 employees suffer work-related injuries each year, of which 144 are fatal. Most of these injuries do not involve obvious trauma, but they nevertheless cause pain, stress and loss of working hours. Even in the relatively benign environment of a clerical office people can suffer injuries due to badly designed workstations or untrained handling of heavy objects.

Obviously the consequences of a workplace injury or fatality can be devastating for a worker and their family, but the effect on the business can be equally destructive. Penalties imposed by the Courts are never less than £1 million for a fatality, but even in cases of lesser injury, senior managers and directors found to be negligent can suffer unlimited fines and custodial sentences of up to two years. Lesser remedies include enforcement notices and compulsory intervention by the Health and Safety Executive for which fees are payable. Such events can cause serious business disruption.

The Law

Businesses with 5 or more employees are required to carry out a workplace risk assessment. It is good practice to do this in consultation with the staff.  Following the risk assessment, it is compulsory to write and retain a health and safety policy which should describe how the identified risks are to be controlled and mitigated.

Organisations with more than ten employees must comply with RIDDOR [i]. This requires the reporting of any incident leading to an employee’s absence from work for more than seven days or being unable to carry out their normal job. Immediate reporting is mandatory where a worker is fatally injured or if an accident involves a member of the public.

Where RIDDOR applies the organisation is required to keep an accident book.

All businesses, irrespective of size, are legally required to be in a position to provide immediate help to any employee who suffers an accident. In practice, this means a suitably trained first-aider. There is also a requirement to provide all staff members with information on the location of the first aid equipment and the identity of the first-aider.

Build your reputation

H & S professionals claim that companies with a good health and safety record tend to be more successful. This should not be surprising. Where senior managers and directors see H & S as of high importance it is a good indication of managerial effectiveness. It also demonstrates care for the staff, contributing to better recruitment and lower staff turnover, and at the same time can create an excellent public image.  So ambitious businesses seeking to enhance their reputations may consider going further than the minimum legal requirements. Those who aim higher can aspire to the British Safety Council’s Five Star Occupational Health and Safety Audit, the ROSPA[ii] Health and Safety Awards, or ISO 45001.

Detailed advice can be found on HSE’s website and if you have any concerns about your health and safety compliance we can assist by putting you in contact with a qualified adviser. Just contact me or fill out our contact form here.

[i] Reporting of Injuries Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013

[ii] Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents