Health and safety guidance for employers

Health and safety | February 2019

employees walking with blurred background effectWe’ve brought all the fundamentals together in one handy place

You can’t afford to ignore health and safety legislation: it applies to all businesses, including self–employed sole traders. But if you find the idea of controlling risk daunting, you needn’t. We’ve got your back, with this authoritative and easy to follow health and safety guidance for employers.

This article highlights what you should be doing, how and when, to manage risks at your organisation, avoid prosecution, protect your corporate reputation and keep your people well.


Article content: quicklinks

  1.  Assign a competent person
  2.  Write a health and safety policy
  3.  Make health and safety information available
  4.  Determine and assess risks
  5.  Employee consultation
  6.  Inform and train people
  7.  Make workplaces usable, safe and comfortable
  8.  Make arrangements for first aid, accidents and ill health
  9.  Get insured
  10.  Stay in the know: useful links

1. Assign a competent person, and consider what support you need

Employers should appoint a ‘competent person’ to manage health and safety and ensure that requirements are met. If you are charged with acting as a competent person, it does not necessarily mean that you need to carry out all health and safety tasks yourself – but you should know what needs to be done, and have measures in place to check health and safety is effectively managed.

You may need support and advice from a competent external source to tell you what you need to do, or to carry out work for you. An external specialist may also be able to spot hazards you are unaware of, such as those around manual handling, or working with high risk work equipment.

If you use external help, do your homework and decide what it is you need help with. For example, carrying out fire risk assessments, ergonomic workstation assessments or noise assessments can require levels of expertise and knowledge that not everybody has.
Make sure any external sources you use are reputable and themselves competent; check their qualifications and experience for the work you want them to carry out.

Health and safety training courses

office based training sessionIf using external support is not an option, identify your needs and seek the right level of training to become competent yourself. There are many training courses available offering health and safety guidance for employers, some focusing on specific topics such as display screen assessment, through to broader certified courses such as IOSH Managing Safely, and more.

At System Concepts we deliver wide ranging health and safety guidance for employers, with consultancy services including: remote telephone and email support; providing onsite consultants to manage your risks; carrying out general risk assessment; fire risk assessment and consultancy; ergonomic and human factors consultancy; access audits and disability management services; delivering IOSH certified training; auditing against legal requirements, your internal policies or against ISO or British Standards; and noise surveys and management.


2. Write a health and safety policy: the what, how and when

Employers should have a health and safety policy stating the arrangements for managing health and safety e.g. who does what, when, and how. It is proof to your employees and others of the organisation’s commitment to managing health and safety at work.

If you’re unsure what your policy should contain, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides standard health and safety guidance for employers, and templates for anyone to access. However for policies to be meaningful and effective, they need to reflect your specific business aims, objectives and culture. Organisations and the risks they face are ever changing, so it’s important your health and safety policies are reviewed and revised to keep pace with change.

Note that if your organisation employs less than five people, you do not need to document a health and safety policy. Nevertheless, having something in writing is helpful, for example, to communicate to your employees.


3. Make health and safety information available to staff

You are required to tell your staff about health and safety law. This includes what you as an employer are required to do, as well as what staff are required to do. You can give this information to staff via a traditional heath and safety law poster, or make it accessible via a leaflet, both of which are available from the HSE.


4. Determine and assess risks at work

Most organisations face health and safety hazards, but to varying degrees. Carrying out a structured risk assessment is a useful way to ensure you carefully think about actual and potential hazards, who may be harmed by them, how harm may occur, and whether you are doing all that is reasonable to prevent harm. Don’t forget you should be considering hazards that are not always present or visible to you, such as using chemicals, poor lighting, noise  or work related stress.

If you are going to complete your own risk assessments, you should carry out research on the various hazards. Some sets of legislation require risk to be assessed in specific ways; for instance, how you assess manual handling risks is different to assessing risks from chemicals, and even more different from assessing risks from fire.

Tools you can use include government websites that publish guidance topics such as fire safety and legislation, trade associations and unions specific to your industry, for example Unison publishes guidance for members, and professional bodies such as the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

After you have completed a risk assessment, you may have a list of things you need to do. This could range from arranging further more detailed risk assessments on topics such as water hygiene (legionella) or fire, through to developing procedures for people to follow, employee training, or thinking about how you can test your control measures to ensure they are effective (audits or practice exercises such as fire drills, etc.).

If your organisation employs less than five people, you do not need to document your risk assessments, but having something in writing is helpful to prove you have fulfilled this requirement should something go wrong, or if you are visited by an external regulator such as a fire officer or an environmental health officer for example. Documented risk assessments can also be used to tell employees and others what’s in place to protect them, and can be used to form the basis of staff training.

Our health and safety consultants have extensive experience in carrying out risk assessments for a wide range of clients, industries and topics. Take a look at the services we offer including fire safety and risk assessment consulting, display screen equipment services, ergonomics and human factors consulting. Our insights articles and client case study pages further showcase our knowledge and how we help our clients.


illustration of diverse employee line up5. Employee consultation

Safe and healthy workplaces and good safety culture are achieved when employees are engaged and given opportunities to participate. Consulting with your employees is not about telling staff things, it should be based on seeking and taking into account their views on health and safety matters, helping you to make informed decisions on workplace improvements and changes.

There are many ways in which you can consult your employees. These can range from straightforward planned meetings and discussions, through to workplace walkabouts, employee surveys and suggestion schemes: choose the methods that work for you and your staff.

Read our guidance on change management here.


6. Inform and train people

No matter how big or small your organisation, people need to know what measures are in place to keep them safe, the standards to which they should work, and how to perform tasks safely.

When planning for health and safety information and training, think about the following:

  • Who you need to train
  • What they need to know
  • How you give them information and training
  • Whether formal qualifications are required
  • Who will provide the information and training
  • How you will assess the effectiveness of the training and information provided
  • Whether information and training needs to be refreshed, and how frequently
  • How you record the training and information provided.

Make sure your organisation’s health and safety training is relevant, timely, engaging and enjoyable. It’s a sound investment, when compared to the potential costs of workplace accidents, incidents, work related ill health or even fines.

At System Concepts we provide training on a wide range of topics for all types of organisations. Our consultants hold training qualifications and are also IOSH approved trainers, meaning we can deliver courses including IOSH Managing Safely and IOSH Working Safely.

Our training services also cover manual handling and industrial ergonomics training, workstation assessor training, COSHH awareness and fire safety training. We have consultants who can develop and deliver bespoke training courses to meet your needs, and even write courses for IOSH approval.

We are able to spend time with you and your staff to understand what training is required and the best way to deliver it, so your people get the most from it.

Our consultancy team can even tailor a workplace ergonomics app to your organisation, providing a means of workstation training and assessment.


7. Make workplaces usable, safe and comfortable

office workers in contemporary spaceThe right workplace can make a significant difference to employee engagement, job satisfaction and safety. In some environments, such as those where hazardous substances are used or where there’s contact with biohazards, the quality and cleanliness of facilities is vital in controlling workplace ill-health. There are many approved documents available which give duty holders information on how they can meet the requirements of building regulations.

If you find working out what you need to do confusing, our consultants are experts at providing health and safety guidance for employers. This may involve working out occupancy levels, calculating how many toilets you need, advising on lighting issues or assessing your workplace against accessibility standards.

To get you started, here are some of the key things you need to consider:

A. Welfare provisions

Workplaces should be provided with sanitary facilities suitable for the people that use them. Depending on the nature of your work, you may need to provide somewhere for people to change, and storage for clothing. Drinking water and rest areas should also be provided.

B. Premises, plant, equipment and facilities

warehouse scene with forkliftSpecific aspects of your workplace, equipment and facilities may need attention to ensure they remain safe and do not create hazards. You should assess what in your workplace needs to be maintained, inspected and tested. This can range from air conditioning systems, the fire alarm system, passenger and goods lifts, through to your portable electrical appliances, fire doors and water systems. Pedestrian and traffic routes should be clear of obstructions, and potentially hazardous materials such as glass should be safe and easily identified, to avoid collisions.

Drawing up a schedule of what needs to be done and when is a good idea, to ensure you do not lose sight of requirements.

Carrying out periodic monitoring of what you put in place for your premises, plant, equipment and facilities is a great way to check how effective measures are, and spot any potential issues and failures before they become realised. Audits and inspections are great ways to monitor your workplace and gain assurance your management controls are effective. You can even consider topic specific audits, which focus on one area such as legionella or fire only.

When you arrange for aspects of your workplace to be maintained, e.g. your fire alarm and lifts, appointing the right, competent people is important. You should have processes in place to ensure contractors are suitably selected and controlled. We help our clients with independent contractor selection and management processes. These range from reviewing contractor competence levels for services they offer and carrying out selection interviews, through to periodic audits and inspections of their work.

C. Workplace environment

Creating a healthy working environment includes considering the conditions in which people work. Generally, this means making sure the workplace temperature is reasonable for the type of work carried out, providing ventilation and suitable lighting. Other environmental considerations include work areas, workstations and seating; they should be well laid out, designed with ergonomics in mind, and allow people freedom of access and egress and room to move about.

Cleanliness is also important to think about: you may simply need to ensure waste does not build up, or you may have hazardous waste such as chemicals or oily rags that may be a fire hazard. If your workplace has transport onsite, you need to consider how suitable segregation from pedestrians is achieved.


8. Make arrangements for first aid, accidents and ill health

First aid

It’s important you have appropriate first aid arrangements in your workplace. First aid is the immediate medical assistance given to someone suffering from an accident, injury or illness, to help prevent conditions worsening before professional medical help arrives. It can save lives and prevent minor injuries becoming major ones.

injured worker lying on floorNot all workplaces are the same, so you should carry out a needs assessment to identify what should be provided. For example, what level of first aid training people need, how many first aiders should be trained, and what type of first aid kit ought to be provided. Other things to think about include reviewing historical data on accidents and ill health, who at your workplace may need additional support, such as those with health conditions, and how close the workplace is to the emergency services.

System Concepts consultants have carried out many site specific first aid needs assessments, for a wide range of organisations. These assessments identify whether first aid provision is suitable, or what more could be done to ensure staff safety.

Accidents, near misses and ill health

Things don’t always go to plan. Accidents, near misses and ill health can occur, even in low risk organisations and for a variety of reasons, sometimes which aren’t immediately obvious.

Your organisation should have processes to:

  • Allow people to report hazards, accidents, near misses and ill health
  • Take immediate action to respond to emergency situations
  • Identify what went wrong and why (immediate and root causes)
  • Decide what you need to do to put things right and prevent reoccurrence
  • Provide help to people (e.g. first aid, occupational health or rehabilitation support).

Also, bear in mind that the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases, Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) require certain injuries, incidents and work-related diseases to be reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) so you’ll need processes in place to ensure things are reported within the required timescales, using the correct methods.

Our health and safety consultants can support you by creating your internal accident reporting procedures and templates, developing bespoke training on accident investigation and reporting, or even helping to review incidents and determine whether they are covered by RIDDOR.


9. Get insured

Good health and safety is about taking reasonable measures to control and reduce the risk of things going wrong, someone getting hurt, or becoming ill due to work. However, if employer negligence is identified for an employee’s work related injury or ill health, employer’s liability insurance will help. You should always seek insurance cover from an authorised provider.


10. Stay in the know: useful sources of health and safety guidance for employers

Maintaining your knowledge on changes to legislation or industry best practice will help you plan for what is to come, so your organisation remains compliant. Doing this needn’t be costly, there are many ways to stay up to date using free sources of health and safety guidance for employers, for example:

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