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27 FAQs people ask about health and safety.
Yes. You are just as responsible for the health and safety of everyone affected by your business, and for the welfare of your employees, as you would be if you ran a factory.
In practical terms, office premises can still present health and safety concerns. While hazards may be less obvious, they can still exist - for example, potential causes of accidents (such as trailing cables), fire risks (such as blocked escape routes) and hazardous substances (such as printer toner).
In addition, a poor working environment - for example, inadequate lighting or ventilation, poorly designed workstations or excessive exposure to computer screens without a break - can produce specific health and employee welfare problems.
You are responsible for the health and safety of everyone affected by your business - including employees, other people working in or visiting your premises (for example, customers, suppliers or delivery drivers), people affected outside your premises (for example, by emissions) and anyone affected by products or services which you design, produce or supply. You are also responsible for the welfare of your employees.
The requirement to register with your local authority or the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has been abolished. However, depending on the type of business you are operating you may be required to register or obtain a licence to operate under other regulations. You can check whether your business is required to register or obtain a licence on the HSE website.
General requirements include:
Specific regulations cover areas such as providing health and safety information to employees, fire precautions, managing dangerous equipment and hazardous substances, providing a suitable working environment, and dealing with accidents and emergencies.
Yes. If you have five or more employees, the policy must be in writing, and you must bring it to the attention of your employees. Even if you have fewer employees, it is good practice to have a written policy.
Your policy should at least contain your general approach to health and safety - ensuring the safety of equipment, creating a healthy working environment, establishing appropriate procedures, providing appropriate training and so on.
The policy should include how you organise for health and safety - which individuals are responsible. And it should include or refer to your specific procedures for dealing with hazards and risks - for example, who can use particular items of machinery and what training they will receive, and the evacuation procedure in case of fire. You must also make a commitment to review the policy periodically and revise it as necessary.
A risk assessment is the process of identifying potential health and safety risks and hazards and how serious they are. You need to consider anything which might harm or injure: for example, where people might trip, fall, or collide; electrical installations and machinery; hazardous substances; or other particular hazards of your business.
You must also take into account potential longer term risks to employees health: for example, causes of physical or mental stress; poorly designed workstations; and manual handling of objects. You are legally required to carry out a risk assessment and take steps to control any risks you identify. You should review the assessment periodically (eg annually) or whenever circumstances change (eg if you introduce new equipment) or if you have reason to believe the assessment is no longer valid.
First, identify the hazards. Inspect your premises and the tasks carried out there, ask employees (and safety representatives), check suppliers' instructions and information and review accident and illness records.
Decide who could be affected - bearing in mind particular risks to visitors, contractors and new employees who may not be aware of your safety procedures, and anyone who might be particularly vulnerable (eg the disabled, young people and new or expectant mothers).
Evaluate the level of risk - how likely it is to cause problems, how many people it could affect, and how badly. Consider whether you are complying with any specific legal requirements affecting your business and meeting industry standards. Then decide what you can do to eliminate or minimise the risk.
Finally, record the outcome of your assessment and any corrective action you have taken as a result. (If you employ five or more people, you are legally required to keep a written record of the assessment.)
Ideally, you will remove the hazard altogether - for example, by using safer equipment or improving lighting. Failing that, you can reduce the potential for harm to acceptable levels with suitable systems and procedures, including providing appropriate information and training. In some circumstances, the best you can do may be to minimise exposure to hazards - for example, only allowing suitably trained employees to use dangerous equipment.
Providing personal protective equipment such as protective clothing and ear defenders should only be used as a last resort when other steps are impracticable or insufficient on their own. Your legal duty is to take reasonably practicable steps to keep everyone healthy and safe, reducing them to an acceptable level. How far you need to go will depend on the seriousness of the risk - how many people are exposed to the hazard, how often, and how seriously they could be affected. Wherever there are serious risks, you must try to tackle the cause rather than merely providing protection or warnings.
You have a general duty to make suitable arrangements for employee welfare - ensuring that you provide the facilities (for example, toilets and drinking water) which are necessary for employees' well-being. This includes considering potential longer term health risks to your employees as part of your risk assessment.
You must provide appropriate information, instruction and training. You should include health and safety in induction for new employees (or employees moving to a different role), particularly if they will be placed in hazardous situations.
You must display the poster 'Health and Safety Law: What you should know' or distribute copies of the leaflet to all employees.
The poster and accompanying leaflets were updated on 6 April 2009. If you have a copy of the old poster, you can continue to use that version until 5 April 2014 providing it is clearly legible and contains up-to-date contact details for the enforcing health and safety body and the Employment Medical Advisory Service. (You must also give employees information about risks to their health and safety and the measures you have put in place to control them.)
In addition, you should use safety signs where appropriate.
You need to ensure that whoever oversees health and safety in your business is 'competent' to do so. This will include general awareness of the legal requirements. This employee will need to be adequately trained.
Depending on your circumstances, it may be appropriate for the employee to have, or be working towards, a suitable qualification. Similarly, whether you need expert help will depend on your circumstances and the level of in-house expertise. A small business working from office premises may find it relatively easy to meet its health and safety obligations. A business with a factory, by contrast, might need substantial advice on regulations, as well as specialist assistance in assessing specific hazards.
All employees have a legal right to be consulted about health and safety issues which affect them. Although setting up a safety committee is not required, it may be an effective way of doing this. If you have a recognised trade union, the union can nominate safety representatives.
Fire certificates are no longer required, but you must carry out a fire risk assessment.
The Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations set out the basic requirements for minimising fire risks. These include:
You must carry out a fire risk assessment (but you can include it within your overall health and safety risk assessment). The risk assessment should include:
Potentially hazardous manual handling (eg lifting heavy or awkward objects) is treated in much the same way as other workplace hazards. You need to assess the risks and take steps to eliminate them or reduce them as far as reasonably practicable.
Possible ways to eliminate risks include redesigning processes to avoid the need to lift objects, or introducing suitable equipment. Ways of reducing risks include: improving workplace layout to reduce awkward or strenuous movements; reducing the distance and frequency items have to be carried; redesigning loads to make them easier to hold and carry; and clearing passageways. Employees should also be given training, both in how to recognise potentially hazardous lifting and in good handling technique.
All equipment must be taken into account in your risk assessment. Potential hazards to consider when assessing your equipment include the risk of the machines cutting or catching people, creating excessive noise, and throwing out material, dust or fumes.
General requirements include ensuring that equipment is:
Additional regulations apply to certain types of equipment which carry particularly high risks - for example, dangerous machinery, lifts and boilers. These include more stringent maintenance and inspection regimes, and a prohibition on the use of dangerous equipment by young people.
Under the COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) Regulations, you must assess and control the risks from hazardous substances. You should:
Even in an office environment, there are likely to be substances that could be potentially hazardous such as printer toner and adhesives, all of which must be appropriately used, labelled and stored.
Practical measures you need to consider include providing:
Your responsibilities include protecting employees from second-hand tobacco smoke. You must ensure that enclosed workplaces are smoke free, including putting up "no smoking" signs and taking steps to ensure that employees and visitors do not smoke on the premises. This requirement also applies to work vehicles that are used by more than one person or carry members of the public.
Your adviser can give you specific guidance on what you need to do.
You must provide personal protective equipment or clothing (PPE) whenever there are risks to health and safety which cannot be adequately controlled in any other way. You must provide the PPE free of charge.
You are responsible for ensuring that: the PPE is adequate for the purposes; users are trained to use it properly; the PPE is properly maintained; and that it is correctly stored. You should also ensure that items of PPE are compatible. For example, if an employee must wear a helmet and safety goggles you should ensure they fit securely and are comfortable when worn together.
Ordinary working clothes which do not have a health and safety role (eg uniforms) are not covered by these regulations.
You are responsible for the health and safety of visitors. The risks to visitors must be taken into account in your risk assessment, and systems put in place to ensure that they are adequately protected.
You must have suitable first aid facilities. It is up to you to assess the number of first aid kits and designated first aiders that you require, but you may want to get guidance from your adviser, local authority or the Health and Safety Executive.
Under RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations) you are required to report certain 'specified injuries' and 'work-related illnesses' to an enforcing authority. Since 6 April 2012, only accidents resulting in incapacitation of more than seven days (excluding the day of the accident) must be reported. Employers have 15 days from the day of the accident in which to report it. Previously, accidents resulting in incapacitation of more than three days had to be reported.
Accidents resulting in incapacitation of more than three days must still be recorded by the employer.
You must have an accident book that records the date and details of each accident, including the injured person's name. Your accident book and any information you record about incidents and the individuals affected must comply with the Data Protection Act.
You are also required to report certain 'dangerous occurrences' and near misses to your enforcing body, even if they do not result in an injury. You can find out more on your reporting obligations on the Health and Safety Executive website.
Yes. Your responsibilities are very much the same as for employees who work on your premises, including:
In practice, the main concern for a typical homeworker (using a computer and the telephone) will be ensuring that the homeworker has a suitable working environment and takes adequate breaks.
Yes - your responsibilities are the same. Consider, for example, a risk assessment of other premises where your employees work.
Maximum fines are £20,000 and/or one year's imprisonment if a case is heard by Magistrates. If heard in Crown Court, fines are unlimited and you could also face up to two years' imprisonment. Fines can be imposed on a company and on individual officers of the company if both are prosecuted. Directors may also face a disqualification order preventing them from acting as a company director for up to 15 years.
Individuals can also be prosecuted for culpable homicide, and manslaughter caused by their gross negligence.
If a person to whom the business owes a duty of care (such as an employee, or a customer) dies as a result of a gross failure in the way health and safety is managed by senior managers in your business, it may be guilty of corporate manslaughter.
The court will look at your systems and processes for managing safety and how these were implemented, and a failure will be treated as gross if it falls far below the standard that could reasonably be expected of your business. The penalty is an unlimited fine, and the court may also make a publicity order, requiring the business to publicise its conviction and fine, and require it to put right the reasons for its failure.
Not necessarily - it is the implementation of the policy that counts. You must do more than just pay lip service to health and safety. For example, if you see an employee failing to comply with safety requirements, the employee should be reprimanded and warned that repeated failure will lead to disciplinary action.
The article above was written with considerations from Corporate Law tutors in Lancaster and Commercial Law advisors based in Wigan. In relation to the article above our solicitors who serve areas such as Southport, are able to offer expert legal advice on this subject.
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