Health and Safety from Scratch!

How to organise your Companies’ health and safety.

When you set up a small business there are many pressures on you commercially and organisationally to ensure that the business is set up on the right footing, especially when that involves employing other people.

Health and safety may not be in the forefront of the mind at this point as it is not something which immediately affects the profitability of the company, and, there is a general lack of knowledge regarding what is actually required by law. Much of the emphasis is on the employer to make judgements as to how to respond and engage with health and safety legislation. Those legal requirements have to be sought out and researched and are not commonly known. It is easier to not even consider health and safety beyond supplying basic PPE, until it is asked for by a potential client or in a tender process, or you are visited by an enforcing authority like the HSE, the Local Environmental Health officer or the local fire brigade.

The main thing to consider is that if the company employs less than 5 people then NOTHING has to be written down. You still have to comply with the law and give due consideration to the risks created but it doesn’t have to be recorded.

Here is what you need to consider:-

All companies need a ‘Competent Person’ for health and Safety, regardless of size. This person is normally one of the Directors and in a lot of small or start-up companies this is often not even considered. This person is responsible for ensuring that the companies’ response to health and safety is adequate and that the Company is fulfilling its legal responsibilities. The more risks that are involved in the company the more that this role is key. In companies with low risk this person, often the MD, can do this with a little research and consideration. In companies whose activities do carry elements of higher risk this may involve the Competent Person being specifically trained. There are several courses such as the IOSH Managing Safely Course, or even the NEBOSH General Certificate. If the company considers that it cannot justify employing a person with safety as a primary role, or that the Directors either haven’t got time or the knowledge/training in place it is usual for the Competent Person role to be contracted to a third party supplier such as a health and safety consultant who would be contracted to be that person and give relevant advice. One common mistake is to tag the health and safety responsibilities onto another role such as finance or HR and to a person who has no knowledge of health and safety and who is already busy enough with their day to day role.

The higher the risks involved in the Companies activities then the more time, effort and resources you need to put into the health and safety response. An Office based operation is very low risk against a Production, Manufacturing or Construction operation. It may be that in this case the health and safety responsibility can be tagged onto another primary role but still training and support will be needed.

The key legislation begins with the health and safety at work act from 1974 which tells us that a company has a responsibility for the health, safety and welfare of employees and non-employees. That means everyone you engage with whilst carrying out your work. All other health and safety legislation is made from this piece of law

The bedrock for your health and safety response within the Company is always your Health and Safety Policy – which includes a Statement of Intent, committing the company to providing the time, resources, and money to deal with the risks created by the Company signed and dated by the responsible Director. It also contains the ‘Organisation’ within your Company for health and safety so who is doing what and then the ‘Arrangements’ for all aspects of health and Safety.

So, in the Organisation Section you nominate who is responsible for the individual implementation of all aspects of health and Safety

Fire and Emergency Procedures (Fire Risk Assessment, Fire Procedures, Fire Extinguishers, Emergency lighting service and fire alarm service, first aid, accident reporting and investigation

Induction and Employee Training

Risk Assessments and Safe Systems of Work covering all aspects of the work both internally and externally

The Building Safety, building maintenance, PAT Testing, Electricity, Gas, Asbestos, Legionella, the facility management

The Vehicle Fleet – maintenance and safety

Equipment Safety, procurement, commissioning, issue, maintenance, test and inspection of all work equipment

Chemical safety. The procurement, transportation, storage and use of chemicals which are harmful to health

There may be other high- risk aspects of the work which require a specific nominated person to lead.

In small or start- up Companies this may be just one or two people who are responsible for all the above.

The Company needs to have effective ‘Arrangements’ for Health and safety

When it comes to the specific health and safety arrangements for the operations of the company there are many individual activities which the company may engage in which are covered by specific Regulations or Guidance documents. Again, the higher the risk of the actual activity the more that you will be expected to deal with the risk as laid out in the Regulations. It also increases if the Company has its own premises. Once you inhabit your own workspace (regardless of whether it is rented or owned) then you have more health and safety responsibility in respect of the building safety. You will need a Fire Risk Assessment and suitable fire prevention measures such as alarms/emergency lighting and fire extinguishers. These all then need to be serviced, maintained etc annually. The fixed electric circuits have to be NIC/EIC certified every 5 years and the portable electrical equipment needs to be PAT tested regularly. If you have water systems the you should have a Legionella Risk Assessment and appropriate controls, an asbestos management Survey if the building was constructed or refurbished before 2000 and Gas Safe for any gas services. You also need to ensure that you display a Health and safety Law Poster as well as your Employers’ Liability Insurance. You also need an accident book and first aid kit and maybe even first aiders depending on a number of factors.

Regardless of whether you have premises or not, the First set of health and safety regulations which tell you how to actually manage your company safely and legally are the Management Regulations from 1999. They apply to ALL businesses regardless of what the companies’ activities are.

Another piece of ‘Umbrella’ Legislation which covers all places of work is the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 which requires employers in control of business premises to comply with the Fire Regulations contained within it.

The there are other specific work category Regulations which may or may not apply to your company, for example working at height. If you are re-roofing two storey houses the risk of working at height is far greater than if you are changing light bulbs using a stepladder. It is still the same category of work-activity but the response would be totally different. There may be some companies where there is no working at height at all.

Examples of the specific Regulations would be

Provision and use of Work Equipment

Control of Substances harmful to Health

Working at Height

Manual Handling

Confined Space Working

Control of Asbestos

Electricity at Work

Display Screen Equipment

There are many other specific regulations dealing with higher risk activities. The idea is that the higher the risk the more control there is on those risks.

Anyone involved within the Construction industry, so renovation, new-builds, extensions, alterations to buildings, regardless of whether they are commercial or not, are governed by the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 which are specific to all trades working in that industry.

The arrangements for health and safety in your company set out exactly what risks you engage with and what your planned response is to those risks.

The starting point for dealing with those risks is to first identify them, then rate the risk as to how likely it is to cause injury and the likely severity the resultant harm might be. If that risk rating is anything but low-risk then you are expected to deal with that risk. If at all possible, you should eliminate the risk at source. A company working with Electricity would turn off and isolate that electricity before working on the circuit thus fully eliminating the risk. Where the risk cannot be fully eliminated then control measures should be introduced to help to control or reduce that risk to an acceptable level. An example of this would be working at height. A company re-roofing houses is at high risk of someone falling from the roof and being seriously injured. The risk cannot be fully eliminated but the risk of serious injury is so high that they would be required to fit appropriate scaffolding before venturing onto the roof to reduce the distance and consequence of that fall. When you look down the risk chain at say an office where photocopier paper is delivered to the ground floor of the building and employees have to transport it to the second-floor office then there is a manual handling risk in moving those boxes. We would look to reduce the risk by providing a trolley, and if necessary, to break up the boxes into separate packets before loading them onto the trolley depending on the capabilities of the staff moving them.

Every task is methodically risk assessed and the risks dealt with either by eliminating them by doing things differently or by using a different method of working or they are reduced by putting in control measures which lower them to an acceptable level. It is not enough to issue Personal Protective Equipment such as boots, gloves hard hats etc in the hope that this will protect the workforce. PPE should be provided to all staff free of charge, but only after all risks have been considered and either eliminated or dealt with using appropriate control measures.

Where your company has processes such as the production of an article or assembly of a product where there are issues of quality and health and safety inherent in those processes then it would be expected that you develop safe systems of work to tell your employees exactly how you wish them to perform an individual task. They can also be called Standard Operating procedures or Method Statements. Typically, they would look like instructions you get with model kits or flat pack furniture. They tell you what tools should be used, what substances should be used and what PPE should be worn. They also go on to show you, very often in diagrams or photographs the sequence and method of the process. These should be trained to your employees upon induction when they are to engage with the process and these are the documents upon which their performance can be judged.

As with the Risk Assessments the Safe Systems of Work should always be signed and dated by the individual workers who are to engage with them.

We must ensure that the staff who are recruited are properly inducted into the work-force formally, not just the administrative side of the company but also the health and safety response of the company, the fire and emergency procedures, the risk assessments, safe systems of work and the issue of the PPE required to be worn etc all signed and dated by the new employee.  The more risk involved in the work the more relevant the qualifications. So, a production worker may be able to be fully trained by the company internally however, an electrician, or plumber would obviously need to be apprentice trained and City and Guilds/NVQ qualified in order to be able to demonstrate that they are able to work safely. In the construction industry workers are regulated by the use of card schemes such as the CSCS or CPCS schemes, the cards are awarded based on evidence of qualifications and training, including elements of health and safety. When aspects of the work involve specific risk such as the use of Mobile Platforms (MEWPS) and Tower Scaffolds there are specific industry cards to prove competence, the PASMA and IPAF cards.

All work equipment must be suitable for the task and CE marked. It must be subject to a program of test and inspection (even just visual) and where appropriate maintenance. Work equipment is everything used at work desks, chairs, computers, stepladders, vehicles, hand-tools, power-tools, photocopiers, CNC machines, fork-lift trucks. Once again, the more risk associated with the equipment the more ridged and frequent the checks should be. All machinery should have the dangerous parts guarded and be serviced and maintained in line with manufacturers guidelines.

The important part of service and maintenance is record keeping so if an injury is sustained whilst using it the employer is able to prove when the equipment was last serviced/maintained otherwise it would be difficult to defend a claim for personal injury.

Chemicals used in the workplace come under the COSHH regulations as mentioned previously. Any chemical which has a risk attached to it, as shown on the product itself, for example irritant, flammable, and displays the appropriate symbol should be subject to some internal arrangements in respect of its use, handling storage and transportation. The supplier of all such goods should make available (very often on the website in the form of a PDF document.) This is known as the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). It is a legal requirement to provide these forms on request. This sheet gives the information about product safety. It includes how the chemical should be used, stored and transported and what to do if there is an accidental release of the substance. The employer should obtain the MSDS for the product which is in use. They should then do what is effect, a Risk Assessment for the use of the product within the business. This is called a COSHH assessment. At the end of that process it will tell you how the product should be stored, used, transported and disposed of. It will also determine what PPE should be worn when it is used. Examples of substances that require COSHH assessments would be bleach, printer ink, glues and solvents and paint.

Hopefully the above guide acts as guidance for what is required, as far as health and safety provision, for new companies starting out. The main lesson is that health and safety should be something which is considered in the planning stage along with all other aspects of the business and is woven into the fabric of the Company. The ISO model of Plan, Do, Check, Act sets the standard for the embedding of any procedures into the organisation. Someone has to be responsible within the Company for taking care of the health and safety, because in law, someone IS responsible and any breaches of health and safety can be punished by heavy fines and even imprisonment.

Obviously another option would be to let OJ Safety take the hassle away from you from as little as £1.52 per day.