Dismiss health and safety regulations at your peril
Health and safety laws apply to all employers – no matter how small the entity. Ensure your office complies with these tips.
Health and safety laws apply to all businesses. As an employer, or a self-employed person, you are responsible for health and safety in your business. The law is designed to protect you, your employees and the public from workplace dangers. This sounds scary, but in reality where a business takes reasonable steps to prevent accidents or harm to employees (and the injury or illness was caused after 1 October 2013), it shouldn’t have to pay compensation.
These ‘reasonable’ steps are straightforward and easy to administer so read on for a summary guide on what you should consider.
Simple steps to compliance 1. As an employer (large or small), you must appoint someone competent to help you meet your health and safety duties. A competent person is someone with the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to manage health and safety. However, if you run a low-risk business, health and safety is something you can manage without needing to buy in expert help. Here you could appoint yourself as a competent person or one or more of your workers.
2. You must decide on your health and safety policy. This should be clear on who does what, when and how. There are templates available to download from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to help with recording your policy /risk assessments and also an example health & safety policy to crib from. The simplification for businesses with fewer than five employees is that they do not have to write down their health and safety policy. They will need to have a policy. The key to compliance is that your staff must follow it and you should review it regularly.
3. Complete a risk assessment. Don't panic! This does not have to mean volumes of paperwork. It just means identifying sensible measures to control the risks in your workplace. Keeps the assessment simple, focusing on significant findings, and there is no need to record minor everyday risks. The law does not expect you to remove all risks. Your risk assessment need only include what you could reasonably be expected to know – you are not expected to anticipate unforeseeable risks.
Again the HSE has created some features to help. There are a number of online risk assessment tools available, including this one specifically for low risk office environments.
Many of the risks that the HSE specifically mention are in high risk industries which are not relevant to this article. However, HSE suggests the following very simple measures to carry out in the assessment of a small office:
simply walk around your workplace and look for any hazards (things that may cause harm)
think about how accidents could happen and who might be harmed. Consult with your employees and discuss what they think the hazards are, as they may notice things that are not obvious to you and may have some good ideas on how to control the risks
concentrate on the real risks – those that are most likely to cause harm
once you have identified the risks and what you need to do to control them, you should put the appropriate measures in place
record your significant findings. For most people this does not need to be a big exercise – just note the main points down about the significant risks and what you concluded.
As above, the simplification for small businesses is that if there are fewer than five employees there is no need to actually write down the assessment.
Two major areas to remember:
You might have disabled staff or newly joined staff. They will have particular requirements.
Many accountants and their staff work from home. This can cause problems so it’s worth looking at the HSE guide to homeworking to ensure that everything is covered.
4. Provide simple training. A low-risk business would not need lengthy technical training. Providing simple information or instructions is likely to be sufficient.
5. Provide the correct working facilities. Again pretty straightforward for a small office based employer. This covers obvious things like:
availability of toilets, wash basins, drinking water
appropriate working temperatures (for instance an office would generally be at least 16°C)
6. Make sure your first aid provisions are adequate and that your employees are aware of these. As a minimum, provide a properly stocked first aid box and appoint a designated ‘first aider’. For more guidance on this, HSE has provided a copy of usual FAQs.
7. Keep a record of any issues – under health and safety law, you must report and keep a record of certain injuries, incidents and cases of work-related disease. An ‘accident book’ can be purchased from HSE here or you can keep the record in your own system.
8. Finally – the famous health and safety poster. We all remember these but how many smaller offices actually have one displayed? You must display the poster where your workers can easily read it or provide each worker with a copy of the equivalent pocket card. These are available from HSE publications along with full guidance on workplace laws.