Paying close attention to health and safety is hugely important, firstly to keep your workforce, contractors and visitors safe, and secondly to protect your business from drastic consequences. These can include substantial fines, disqualification of company directors and even imprisonment. Both the company and the individual owners can be prosecuted.
The starting point for any business is the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, but you also need to be aware of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, and any other specific rules relevant to your business sector or work activities.
One of the main tools in the H&S toolkit is the risk assessment. You must carry out adequate risk assessments of workplaces, jobs and projects in order to understand where risks arise and how best to reduce or manage them.
It is not just risk to your employees that you have to assess – you also need to consider how customers, contractors, visitors and anyone else involved in such activities might be affected.
Once you know what the risks are, think about what you can do to reduce those risks. Steps might include providing protective clothing, redesigning the job process, or putting safeguards in place for lone workers. You will also need to ensure that staff are adequately trained.
If you employ five or more employees, you must also have a written health and safety policy in place which is accessible to all staff.
Risk can never be eliminated completely, but employers must take reasonable steps to reduce risk where possible. What is ‘reasonable’ is something of a grey area so if you are not clear about health and safety you should seek always specialist advice.