Health and safety

Breaching health and safety rules can result in claims of personal injury, constructive and unfair dismissal, disability discrimination and prosecution by the Health and Safety Executive. Getting things right from the start will protect your staff from injury and you from liability.

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What are an employer’s main obligations?

All employers have a general duty to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of employees and other workers. This covers several areas like providing a safe place of work, safe access to work, safe systems of work, safe equipment, safe and competent fellow workers and protection from unnecessary risks of injury.

All employers must have approved mandatory employer’s liability insurance in place for employee injuries. Employers must conduct and regularly update a risk assessment to identify the measures needed to comply with the applicable health and safety and fire requirements. A separate risk assessment should be done for new and expectant mothers. 

All employers must make appropriate health and safety arrangements appoint a competent person to handle this area and consult with staff over health and safety matters. In addition, if they have five or more employees, a written health and safety policy is a legal requirement.

Employers must make adequate and appropriate first aid arrangements and tell staff about them; they also must keep an accident book recording (among other things) all major workplace injuries (including any resulting in hospital treatment) any accident requiring seven days off work or more and other dangerous occurrences.

There are also lots of specific rules about health and safety set out in legislation dealing with particular issues like hazardous chemicals, manual handling, noise, fire, electricity, display screens, manual handling, first aid and accidents. Some high-risk workplaces have special rules (eg construction sites).

What else should you know?

Employees cannot be subjected to any detriment for raising health and safety concerns or carrying out relevant duties as they are protected from being discriminated against under whistleblowing legislation. Protecting health doesn’t just mean avoiding accidents. Don’t forget to think about the effects of stress, bullying and harassment in your health and safety planning; these issues can also lead to claims of discrimination. In serious cases of employer default, directors and officers can face criminal charges. You also owe a duty of care to visitors to your premises under occupier’s liability rules so you should ensure you have the relevant insurance in place but this can be costly.

Managing health and safety in practice

Dealing with health and safety issues is daunting for new employers. Many decide to appoint an expert outside consultant to get the right systems in place.

The Health and Safety Executive is a great source of practical information and guidance for employers.

The Fire Service is a good source of information on fire safety and compliance and will liaise with workplaces to ensure buildings meet appropriate standards.

For office based business, health and safety arrangements needn’t be too complex. The main issues to tackle will be a written policy, fire safety, first aid arrangements, risk assessments, manual handling and use of display screens. 

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