In February 2016, sentencing powers, for the non-compliance of Health & Safety legislation, within the Scottish court system became tougher. This was designed to bring the penalties more in line with those available in England and Wales, and since February 2016 the fines handed down from Scottish courts to businesses has ranged from anywhere between £160,000 to £2.6 million.
The likelihood of custodial sentences being imposed on individuals for serious breaches of Health & Safety law also became more common, with sentences of 26 weeks imprisonment available for offences even where no negligence was found.
Furthermore, even where no criminality took place, the implications for businesses which suffer major incidents are considerable.
For example, 60% of UK businesses which suffer fire damage never recover; the loss of premises, equipment, stock and clients being too much for a company to regain.
To assist you in creating a safer workplace, and avoid falling foul of the law, we’ve created what we consider to be 5 Health & Safety Top Tips.
1) Appoint Competent Persons.
A Competent Person is someone with the relevant experience, skills, knowledge and, just as importantly, the motivation to manage Health & Safety for your business and workforce.
As safe working practices will have a much better chance of being successful if they’re accepted rather than enforced, your Competent Persons should be able to demonstrate a good understanding of effective man-management techniques.
They should be able to demonstrate, through accredited certification such as an IOSH Managing Safely course, a CITB or an NEBOSH equivalent, that they have at least understood the fundamentals of Health & Safety legislation, regulations and Accepted Codes of Practice. They may also require further accredited certification if your business operates in specialised sectors, such as offshore, mining or construction.
For low-risk businesses, that Competent Person may be yourself, or one or more members of staff whom you feel meet the above criteria, but for larger organisations and those where the work activity reaches a medium to high-risk category it may be necessary to hire an expert consultant, either on a freelance basis or fully employed within the company itself.
There are a number of sources available to advise and guide you in appointing or recruiting the right person. These may include:
Consultants registered on the Occupational Safety and Health Consultants Register (OSHCR)
Health and safety training providers
Health and safety equipment suppliers
2) Have a written Health & Safety policy for your Business.
Despite the fact that it is a legal requirement for businesses with 5 or more staff to have one, you’re simply not going to have a workforce which understands your commitment to a safer workplace, far less how to achieve it, if you do not have a formal written policy in place.
Your Health & Safety policy will quite simply state who does what, when and how. There’s no need to over-complicate things. Keep the policy simple and clear, and keep the objective in mind when writing it.
The Health & Safety Executive have created handy templates to assist with writing your policy.
Remember, a workplace policy will only be effective if everyone involved follows it and you review it regularly.
3) Conduct a Risk Assessment.
Again, this is not something you can nor should avoid. For one, you have a legal obligation to “avoid or reduce risks to what is reasonably practicable”, and secondly, you cannot hope to eliminate or reduce risks if you have not clearly identified what they are.
Like your written policy statement, your Risk Assessment should be kept simple. There are 5 main stages to risk assessing:
- Identify the Hazard
- Identify who is at Risk
- Evaluate the Risks
- Record your findings
- Revise & Review the RA at regular intervals or when necessary
Essentially, all you’re doing is attempting to identifying everything significant that may cause harm to anyone affected by your business and then devise a plan to avoid that risk altogether or reduce it.
You won’t win any business award for over-complicating the Risk Assessment so keep things simple and focus on the control measures you can put in place.
Take a tour of your premises or site and look for anything that may cause harm. Speak with your colleagues and staff, listen to any concerns they raise and consider them carefully. Very often a potential hazard will be identified by someone else when it may not seem obvious to you.
Don’t fill your risk assessment with everyday hazards and don’t attempt to predict unforeseen risks, rather concentrate on the significant hazards which are likely to cause harm without sufficient control measures in place. Remember to consider people who may not normally work on your site, such as inductees, temporary workers, contractors and visitors. As they’ll be unfamiliar with your workplace, the chances of a hazard harming one of these individuals is higher than someone who has spent a reasonable amount of time working there.
Different templates and example Risk Assessments are available all over the internet, but the HSE website is probably your best first port of call. If you use theirs, you can be sure all fields of entry will cover what you require.
Finally, as hazards and risks continually change and evolve over time (and sometimes day-to-day) remember to regularly review and revise the Risk Assessment so that it continually meets your requirements. This should be done when there is any significant change to policy, working practice or when you appoint new staff.
4) Invest in your people.
You’ve come this far. You’ve appointed a Competent Person and you’ve written a formal Health & Safety policy. This will all fall short, however, if you do not train your staff to identify hazards and risks for themselves and, by extension, how to work safely. Don’t rely on your staff having, “common sense”, ensure that they are made aware of the hazards they may face and the consequences of failing to work safely.
A Health & Safety poster is your first step, but you’ll need to provide more if you’re serious about creating a safer working culture.
Not all staff will have to attend the same training courses. So take a considered, proportionate approach when considering what type of training should be provided and who it should be provided to. Low-risk businesses, for example, will generally only require staff to receive simple information, instructions or guidance. If you’ve identified a need for your staff to receive a formal training course, remember that, as most Health & Safety training can only ever provide general information and advice, you’ll have to supplement the training with in-house updates and more specific details peculiar to your own business or workplace.
Consult your staff and ask them for feedback on the training they’ve just received. This will allow you to determine whether the training was effective or even relevant.
Document all training and retain records. Not only is this a legal requirement, it will greatly assist you when the time comes to renew or refresh training.
All work-related training should be paid for by the business itself and take place during normal working hours. Don’t simply go for the cheapest or most expensive training either. Price is not a good barometer of quality, and, unfortunately, neither is simply going for one of the “big names”.
Instead, choose a training provider which is affiliated to an industry body such as IOSH, CITB or NEBOSH. This will demonstrate that the training provider has achieved a high standard of accreditation underpinned with relevant industry knowledge and experience.
Providing Health & Safety training to your staff may feel like a distraction or expensive without an obvious ROI, but remember these key points:
* A well trained, safety conscious workforce will reduce the risk of accidents.
* A reduced risk of accidents prevents loss of reputation and the prospect of claims
* A good Health & Safety culture may be rewarded with reduced insurance premiums
* The absence of accidents helps to prevent stress
* An accident-free, stress-free workforce is generally a happier & more productive workforce.
Remember to include contractors and the self-employed in any information you provide.
5) Don’t be afraid to encourage the reporting and documenting of ‘Near Misses’
Accidents can and will happen. We can implement all the safety measures available to us, but we have to face up to the fact that human error is one of the main causes of accident in the workplace. Hopefully, no one is harmed. But recognise that the potential for someone to have been harmed was very real, but for luck or good fortune.
Therefore, do not fear the reporting and documentation of near misses or “Dangerous Occurrences” as something that may get your business in trouble with the authorities. Instead, look upon them as an opportunity to learn and improve your working practices. Use the opportunity to work in partnership with your staff, the HSE or local authority to ensure “so far as reasonably practicable” that it doesn’t happen again.
Encourage your staff to report genuine concerns. By doing so you’ll automatically begin to engineer a safer culture, and if the staff feel like senior management is approachable, flexible and attentive where there welfare is concerned, you’ll achieve something which cannot be bought – their loyalty.