FOR small business owners, avoiding costly and reputationally damaging litigation is an ongoing concern. One major source of litigation is the complex area of health and safety.
This area can seem like a minefield of potential risks for employers and the legislation and guidelines can be overwhelming. Litigation is one of our specialisms, and we have detailed some practical step small business owners can take to make sure they comply with health and safety legislation and offer the best possible protection to employees and customers alike.
The key legislation governing this area is the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 which is supplemented by specific regulations for certain risks which may exist in some industries.
One of the first things a small business owner should do is to carry out a detailed risk assessment for each business process and to put in place a comprehensive health and safety policy. A risk assessment shows you have identified foreseeable risks and have taken precautionary action to avoid any potential risks which might lead to injuries or illnesses occurring. Your employees might have some additional insight into what hazards exist within the workplace, so consulting with them is advisable.
As well as identifying hazards, the assessment should also consider the level of risk or harm and how to avoid it. This assessment will inform your health and safety policy, as this is essentially an outline of what you will do to fulfil your duty of care to employees and customers. These health and safety documents must be in writing if your business employs five or more people. As part of these initial actions, you should also appoint a ‘competent person’ to be responsible for ensuring the health and safety policy is appropriate and that it is followed.
It is one thing having a health and safety policy in place, but it is essential that employees are appropriately trained and have the necessary facilities and equipment to properly comply with the policy. All employees must understand what risks exist, and how they should manage them, as well as being familiar with what they should do in the event that an emergency does occur.
This training needs to be kept up to date as your workplace or practices evolve. As well as knowledge, employees must have the equipment and facilities required to implement safety procedures, such as protective gloves, masks or eyewear for example.
In addition to the equipment which is needed to deal with specific hazards, it is also vital to maintain a healthy environment, such as ensuring temperatures are kept at a safe level good lighting and ventilation, accessible toilets and running water to name a few essential elements.
These are day-to-day requirements for small business owners, however additional obligations apply if specific incidents occur. It is a legal requirement to report work related deaths, major injuries, work related diseases and near miss accidents to the Health and Safety Executive. You must be prepared for such occurrences, which means you must have a first aid kit and an appointed person or first aider to manage accidents and illness as well as an accident report book.
Awareness is one of the most important tools in avoiding injuries and accidents. Business owners must ensure that they have a health and safety law poster prominently displayed, as well as informing employees of first aid and emergency arrangements.
Finally, remember that this is the basic first steps in ensuring a safe workplace – you should always seek further guidance if you are unsure of how best to protect your employees, your customers, yourself and your business.
Irish News Link – Is your business health and safety compliant? – The Irish News