Health and safety at work: How to protect yourself and your employees
It might not always seem like it, but the workplace can be a dangerous place.
That’s why complying with health and safety regulations should be one of your top priorities no matter what business you’re in. As well as the various legal requirements you have as an employer to protect your employees and any visitors to the site, it’s in the best interest of the business to make sure that your workforce is healthy and protected.
But, with so many accidents that can happen in the workplace, knowing how to protect yourself and your employees can sometimes be a challenge. So where do you start?
To help you, we’ve put together a handy guide to health and safety in the workplace you can read below.
What is health and safety at work?
As an employer, it’s your legal responsibility to make sure that all your employees are taken care of when in the workplace. While you can’t prevent every possible accident, you can avoid a large majority of them by putting preventative measures in place.
All businesses must identify any existing or potential hazards, assess the risks, and implement any controlled measures that they deem worthy as a possible prevention method. It’s generally best practice to document any findings and effectively communicate any issues with your staff.
You also have a legal requirement to have a written health and safety policy available to employees. It should set out your general approach and commitment — as well as any arrangements you may have put in place — for managing health and safety in your business. A strong and clear health and safety policy helps to establish your approach to health and safety matters, affirms your commitment to preventing harm, and promotes a safe working environment.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 describes, in detail, the wide range of duties that employers must follow. Essentially, you must protect the health, safety and welfare of all your employees as well as anyone else who might be on the premises. This includes:
- Any temporary or on-call workers
- Freelancers or the self-employed
- Existing or potential clients
- Members of the general public
As an employer, you’re required by law to prevent any physical and mental ill-health in your staff that may occur as a direct result of your business. An important part of occupational health is about how work and the environment it presents can impact employees health, both mentally and physically.
To prevent your staff from becoming ill because of work, there are several factors you can implement. These include:
- Regular health and/or medical checks — Health surveillance is a series of repeated health checks to screen for any issues that may be caused by work.
- Ensuring workers are medically fit — Making sure your staff are medically fit to take on roles. Some industries may produce a set of standards everyone must meet, such as those who work in the NHS or operate heavy machinery.
- Reviewing risk assessments — When a member of staff returns to work following a leave of sickness or declares a health condition, it’s important for you as an employer to review any risk assessments.
- Offering professional advice — Providing professional diagnosis, prognosis and advice to staff if they’re unable to work due to long-term or short-term intermittent health problems.
- Prevent and remove — Preventing and removing health risks that may possibly arise in the workplace. This includes advising on ergonomic issues and the layout of the workspace.
What are the main rules for workplace safety?
When looking into health and safety at work, here are the things you need to consider:
- Understand risks- Make sure you and your staff understand any risks you are undertaking when you carry out your roles. For example, if you run a garage, ensure your staff are properly trained on the equipment and know what to do if something goes wrong
- Be aware of your surroundings at all times- Encourage your staff to stay safe and be vigilant of their surroundings.
- Know where the first aid kit is- Make sure all your staff and new starters know where to access the first aid kit in an emergency.
- Take regular breaks- Encourage your staff to take breaks and move around at regular intervals, especially if their roles are computer-based.
- Always use equipment properly- Make sure all staff are properly trained to use work equipment. You can limit the risk of accidents and avoid injury.
- Pay attention to signs- Make sure your business has relevant signs up, for example, fire exit signs.
- Know where emergency exits are- Always make sure emergency exits are not obstructed by anything like cabinets, boxes, or desks. Ensure there is an easy, clear route out and everyone knows where the fire meeting point is.
Why is health and safety important?
Typically, there are several different industries and roles that will be deemed at a higher risk of accidents than others. Someone who works in an office-based role will be less at risk of a workplace accident compared to someone who works and operates heavy machinery in a warehouse.
However, it’s important that health and safety practices are implemented across all jobs, so employees feel confident and capable of undertaking any of their tasks. It also:
- Encourages social responsibility — Over recent years, businesses have been publicly held accountable for their ethical practices and actions. Now more than ever, it’s important to make sure that employees, visitors and customers are never put in any danger.
- Health and safety culture — The risks to individuals will differ depending on their role. However, all employers and upper management-level employees must highlight the importance of a health and safety culture.
- It makes sense business-wise — Practicing good health and safety culture can:
- Improve efficiency.
- Reduce risks and lessen the likelihood of any future accidents.
- Boost morale and productivity. A workplace that knows they’re being looked after will promote a more positive work environment.
- Avoid reputational damage.
Poor health and safety can lead to illness, injury or even death.
What are the 4 main objectives of the Health and Safety At Work Act?
There are four main objectives of the health and safety at work act. They are:
As an employer, you have a duty of care to your staff. You are in charge of maintaining equipment and making sure your employees feel safe. You should also:
- Provide training on how to carry out work processes safely
- Provide a safe place to work
- Work out a clear health and safety policy
- Carry out risk assessments
- Collaborate with health and safety experts
- Make sure all tasks are handled safely
- Make sure all staff have concerns heard
As an employee, you must take some responsibility for yourself in the workplace. This might include:
- Taking care of your own personal health
- Ensuring the safety of other staff members
- Not interfering with your workplace health and safety protocol
- Cooperating with your manager on matters of health and safety
- Asking proactive questions about health and safety in the workplace
Enforcement of health and safety legislation
The role of a health and safety inspector is to make sure businesses are following their own measures. They have important rights, like:
- The right of entry to your business premises without an appointment (as long as it’s at a reasonable time)
- The right to take equipment for inspection
- The right to request assistance from the police
- The right to question your staff on their health and safety measures
- The right to request health and safety documents
If your business is in breach of its health and safety policy, you might face legal implications. These can include:
- Legal Notices - These can include improvements and prohibitions. Improvements tell you what is wrong within your business and provide you with a deadline to fix it. Prohibitions on the other hand, tell you to stop dangerous practices immediately.
- Prospection - These can include fines and even custodial sentences.
Why is Health and Safety at Work Act important?
The health and safety at work act ensures all employers feel safe at work. The act in particular aims to support the physical and mental wellbeing of permanent, freelance, self-employed and temporary workers, as well as customers, clients and anyone visiting your business.
Who regulates health and safety standards in the UK?
All health and safety regulations in the UK are enforced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). As a regulator, their goal is to prevent workplace death, injury or ill health.
There are a variety of methods that the HSE use to influence or help manage workplace risks such as:
- Providing companies with advice, information and guidance on health and safety in the workplace and how to prevent accidents.
- Raising awareness in the workplace by influencing and engaging with companies.
- Carrying out targeted inspections and investigations.
- Taking enforcement action to prevent harm and hold those who break the law accountable for jeopardising their employee’s health.
The HSE expects all business owners, supervisors and managers, as well as contractors and staff on all levels to comply and share responsibility for workplace health and safety.
What am I legally required to do?
As an employer, you’re legally expected to:
- Have a written health and safety policy — If you employ five people or more in your company, by law you must have a written health and safety policy document.
- Have health and safety advice — You must ensure that all employees have access to competent and up to date health and safety advice.
- Disclose any risks — You must disclose any risk to employees, customers or any other person who may be affected by this. This can be something as simple as displaying a wet floor sign over a spillage.
- Arrange preventative measures — Employers must effectively plan, organise, monitor and review all preventive and protective measures they put in place.
- Consult employees — It’s important to speak with employees about any potential risks they may have encountered that have not been recorded.
What are the risks of not complying with health and safety standards?
Companies are regularly prosecuted following accidents that happen in the workplace.
If you fail to comply with any requirements, it can have serious repercussions on your business. You could face fines, imprisonment, and disqualification, depending on the severity of the situation.
If a health and safety breach results in the death of an employee, customer or member of the public, the courts can serve you with an unlimited fine. On top of that, they’ll serve a publicity order which requires you to publish details of the conviction and fine to the public.
Who is responsible for maintaining health and safety in the workplace?
Employers hold most of the responsibility when it comes to workplace health and safety. Legally, they are responsible for health and safety management, so this means that employers have to make sure that their premises are safe and secure for anyone who may enter the building.
While you can hire a dedicated Health and Safety officer who can take ownership of all tasks, this doesn’t shift the responsibility completely.
If a member of staff does try to make a claim against you, it’s important that you have all of your legal expenses in place. You can read about how you can protect your business against legal costs in the UK with our guide to employer’s liability insurance.
Employees also have a level of responsibility to help the workplace remain safe. They also have a responsibility to take care of their own health and safety, as well as their colleagues, who may be affected by any of their actions.
An employee’s main health and safety responsibilities are to:
- Understand the risks associated with their work.
- Follow any health and safety training that is provided.
- Comply with safety procedures.
- Report any failings.
- Help keep hazards at a minimum. Essentially this means cleaning up after yourself, doing regular maintenance of equipment that you’re responsible for, etc.
What is a risk assessment?
A comprehensive and regularly reviewed risk assessment is essential in any business. This is where you can identify and manage any potential hazards or risks that may arise in the workplace.
Here are the five key steps you need to know about to complete a risk assessment:
1. Identify hazards
Identifying and locating anything that can be classed as a potential hazard is the first step when carrying out a risk assessment. There are several types of hazards you should consider:
- Physical hazards — This includes trips or falling, as well as injuries sustained from lifting heavy materials or working with dangerous machinery.
- Biological and chemical — When dealing with any sort of chemicals, for example, asbestos or industrial chemical cleaning products.
- Psychosocial — Most recently, you’ll now need to spot any risks that could affect employees' mental health. This can include stress, excessive workload, and verbal or emotional abuse.
You can also look back at any accident or ill health records, as these can help to identify any less obvious hazards that may have been overlooked.
2. Evaluate and assess the risks
Once all possible risks have been identified, it’s now time to decide how likely it would be that someone could be harmed and to what extent. It’s important to consider:
- Who might be harmed and how?
- How are you already controlling the risk?
- What further action is needed to control the risk?
- Who needs to carry out this action?
- When does the action need to be complete?
Understanding who could be at risk, as well as potential solutions, will help your business to keep its people safe.
3. Take action
Evaluating the likelihood of risks and the severity of an individual situation will help when putting in place preventive and precautionary measures.
Whilst sometimes it isn’t possible to fully eliminate the risk — such as the high risks that are involved when using heavy machinery — you need to take appropriate action for that level of risk wherever you can.
Taking action to prevent the increase of any future risks can include restricting access to hazardous areas, issuing effective and necessary PPE as well as regular health and safety training.
4. Record your findings
If you employ 5 or more people in your business, you’ll legally need written evidence of any significant findings and any action taken to reduce this level of risk. Recording the findings of your risk assessment means that you can review any of your previous assessments in the future.
If your findings you’ll need to make sure you include:
- A detailed description of the hazards.
- Who could be harmed and how?
- What you are doing to control the risks at present.
- How you can prevent the risk in the future.
A written risk assessment provides proof that hazards were evaluated. This can also help protect your business in the future from any legal liability if an employee should claim after an accident. Read our guide on legal expense insurance to make sure you’re covered.
5. Review your risk assessment
Once your risk assessment is complete, it should be reviewed. This helps to see if the measures that have been put in place are working and with the way the workplace changes, it’s important to make sure you’re up to date.
When you’re carrying out your risk assessment, it’s important to include any employees and health and safety representatives. Staff will be more aware of any potential risks as they’re more involved in the day-to-day operations of the business. They’ll also be able to easily identify any dangerous shortcuts. Involving employees in this process is a great way to make them feel appreciated in the workplace, and they’re more likely to follow procedures if they’ve been involved in the process.
How can I make my workplace safer for my employees?
There are several simple and easy steps that you can take to ensure you’re making the workplace as safe as it possibly can be.
- Carrying out regular risk assessments — Employers should follow the five steps to risk assessments to make sure the workplace is safe.
- Select contractors with the skills to work safely — If you’re employing contractors for projects, you need to make sure that they possess the skills, knowledge and qualifications required to carry out the work efficiently and safely.
- Create a written health and safety policy — Writing up a health and safety policy document is a legal requirement. It’s also a way to efficiently and easily communicate your procedures company-wide.
- Provide necessary PPE — As an employer, it’s your responsibility to provide any necessary personal protective equipment that can help reduce any risks in the workplace. You also must provide this to all employees, free of charge.
- Provide effective health and safety training for staff — For your staff to understand the risks and how they should act on them, providing training will help. In some industries, like catering, you’ll need to be regularly up to date with all health and safety knowledge.
- Display any useful information — Health and safety posters are a legal requirement in the UK.
Read our guide on how to handle a workplace accident and your key responsibilities as an employer, should the worst happen.
How to make workplaces safer
Whilst it can sometimes seem overwhelming how to make workplaces safer, it’s important that you implement all the necessary steps for the safety of your employees. Simple preventative measures will help in the long run and will make sure that your business is following all health and safety rules.
For more information and advice, please head to the HSE website.
Get in touch with the Bionic team to discuss your needs or get more information on business insurance today.