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No matter what type of business you own, if you have employees - you must comply with health and safety in the workplace regulations.

Luckily, most current health and safety legislation is based on sensible practices that most people consider reasonable. However, there is always a tension between the wish to eliminate (or at least drastically mitigate) every risk to workplace health and safety and the commercial reality of the costs and resources compliance requires. 

Why is health and safety legislation important in the workplace?

There are several reasons why health and safety legislation is important in the workplace and should be one of your primary concerns as an employer.

Under the Definitive Guidelines for Sentencing Organisations for Health and Safety Offences, fines for health and safety breaches exceeding £100,000 are now relatively common. Furthermore, the reputational damage caused by health and safety breaches can be considerable. With skills shortages affecting most market sectors, businesses must demonstrate a commitment to their employees’ well-being if they wish to attract and retain talent.

This article describes the primary health and safety acts and regulations that affect employers and some tips on managing health and safety in the workplace. 

What are the primary health and safety laws in the UK?

The Health and Safety at Work Act etc (HSWA) 1974 provides the framework for health and safety regulations and sets out the essential health and safety duties of a company, its directors, managers, and employees.

Under the HSWA 1974, employers must:

  • Ensure the health and safety of their employees and anyone affected by the activities of the business
  • Undertake sufficient and suitable risk assessments
  • Make and give effect to appropriate arrangements for the effective planning, organisation, control, monitoring, and review of preventive and protective measures required to eliminate or mitigate the risks identified in the assessments
  • Audit the adequacy of the preventive and protective procedures
  • Appoint one or more competent people to implement the measures needed to comply with health and safety at work regulations 
  • Provide employees with understandable and relevant information and training on the risks they face and the preventive and protective measures to control them

If you have five or more employees, you must provide, update, and communicate a written health and safety policy.

What does a director need to do to comply with health and safety laws?

As a company director, you will be juggling multiple tasks and responsibilities. To comply with health and safety duties and responsibilities, you must be aware of the business’s health and safety risks. Suppose you operate in a high-risk industry such as agriculture, construction, or manufacturing - it is best practice to allocate health and safety responsibilities to a senior employee or committee of senior staff and set KPIs around regularly reporting to you.

There are several resources available to assist with health and safety law compliance. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides a Guide on measuring health and safety performance.

The British Standards Institute has developed OHSAS 18001, which helps companies create and maintain a safe and healthy working environment for workers, visitors, and anyone affected by an organisation’s activities, plus the OHSAS 18002 to explain the requirements of the specification and to provide guidance with what is required by the employers to its implementation. 

Who enforces health and safety laws in England and Wales?

Although the HSE is the central enforcing body for health and safety matters, the HSWA 1974 also provides local authorities and other bodies authorised by primary or secondary legislation to enforce health and safety and welfare regulations. 

For example, the Office of Rail Regulation and local fire and rescue authorities can investigate and prosecute health and safety breaches.

Who can be prosecuted for health and safety breaches?

Health and safety law compliance must be taken seriously. If an incident occurs, you as an employer/company director could face criminal prosecution and be fined or imprisoned. For example, if a person dies due to negligence, your company could be charged with corporate manslaughter.

Below are five ways you can step up your health and safety law compliance:

  • Find out and study the health and safety laws that apply to your market sector 
  • Undertake comprehensive risk assessments and record relevant findings
  • Develop a health and safety culture within your organisation by encouraging everyone, from senior management to apprentices, to take health and safety seriously and report any areas of concern
  • Provide regular communication and training on health and safety to all employees and other business stakeholders
  • Develop a relationship with a health and safety solicitor who understands your business and market sector and also provides an emergency response if an incident occurs, and drafts health and safety policy and procedure documents

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In closing

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