What exactly is a Health and Safety Policy?
A Health and Safety policy outlines your commitment to ensuring good standards of Health and Safety in your workplaces. A Health and Safety policy is not only relevant to employees but also to the public and subcontractors. It is a legal document which can protect your interests but equally can also provide enough rope to hang you.
If a personal injury claim is initiated against your company, the claimants solicitor will request your health and safety policy. If you employ more than 4 people and do not have a written health and safety policy, you are not meeting the legal requirement of the Health and Safety at Work Act Section 2.3. As a legal duty has not been fulfilled, civil claims are much easier to settle in favour of the claimant as there is a clear breach of legislation.
Businesses with Less than 5 Employees
If you employ less than 5 people, you do not have to have a Written Health and Safety Policy. You do, however, have to demonstrate that you are managing health and safety in the workplace and reducing risks. The Health and Safety at Work Act is clear that it states Written. It does not mean that Health and Safety does not have to be addressed. It literally means, you can verbally communicate your health and safety requirements to your employees.
The good news for all businesses is that the Health and Safety Executive have announced that they are happy to move away from policies and procedures and will take a look at how the business is run and other documents such as communications between employers and employees to prove that Health and Safety is being well managed.
Why is a Health and Safety Policy an Essential Document to Have?
A Health and Safety Policy is an easy way to show your commitment to managing health and safety in the workplace.
If an accident happens, how will you prove that you did everything reasonably practicable to ensure the health and safety of your workforce? You may have all the best intentions and verbally do everything right, but when an employee hears how lucrative a personal injury claim can be, they can suddenly forget every health and safety instruction you have ever given.
Solicitors are also very good at asking questions in a way to get the answer they want out of an injured person. The statement they make is a legal document that will be used in the personal injury claim which is why the solicitors ask questions in a way to get the answer they need for a large payday, sorry, I mean a successful claim.
So, a written Health and Safety Policy is important because:
- It is evidence that you are managing health and safety within your business
- It is a legal requirement if you employ more than 4 people
- It shows your clients that you are not a health and safety risk or liability
- It tells your employees their responsibilities
- It shows your employees that a personal injury claim will not be an easy task
What is in a Health and Safety Policy?
A health and safety policy document is usually divided up into three sections.
- Statement of Intent
- Organisational Arrangements
- Arrangements for Implementing the Policy
Here’s a more detailed look at what’s in each section
Health and Safety Statement of Intent
This is the legal bit. Stick with it…it’s not too complicated.
The Health and Safety at Work Act requires every employer (that’s every, not just those employing over 4!) to ensure the health and safety of employees whilst at work.
This is a direct quote from the Health and Safety at Work act:
Every employer must provide so far as is reasonably practicable
The provision and maintenance of plant and systems of work that are, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health.
Arrangements for ensuring, so far as is reasonably practicable, safety and absence of risks to health in connection with the use, handling, storage and transport of articles and substances.
The provision of such information, instruction, training and supervision as is necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of his employees
So far as is reasonably practicable as regards any place of work under the employer’s control, the maintenance of it in a condition that is safe and without risks to health and the provision and maintenance of means of access to and egress from it that are safe and without such risks
The provision and maintenance or a working environment for his employees that is, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe without risks to health, and adequate as regards facilities and arrangements for their welfare at work.
So your health and safety policy statement of intent absolutely must include the above five points.
The statement must also be signed. If it is not signed, it is not valid. When I’m appraising sub-contractors health and safety documentation with a view to adding them to my clients Approved Subcontractor List, I often receive policy statements with are either not signed or have the Directors name typed in a handwritten font. The signature needs to be the Director or Owners signature. It is a legal document and must be signed to be meaningful and valid.
The policy as a whole should be regularly reviewed, again to comply with the Health and Safety at Work Act. The easiest way to do this is to review the whole health and safety policy annually and date the Health and Safety Policy Statement of Intent within the last 12 months.
Usually section two of a health and safety policy. This section outlines:
- Who the key people in the business are
- What each key person will do to meet the health and safety duties placed on the company
- Employee responsibilities
- How the company consults with their employees on health and safety matters
The key people can be identified by job title, with the exception of the Directors (or owners) and Company Secretary. The organisational structure must be shown so that the reporting lines within the company are clear.
Section 7 of the Health and Safety at Work Act places duties upon Employees and these should be reinforced in your health and safety policy.
The Health and Safety at Work Act states:
It shall be the duty of every employee while at work—
(a) to take reasonable care for the health and safety of himself and of other persons who may be affected by his acts or omissions at work; and
(b ) as regards any duty or requirement imposed on his employer or any other person by or under any of the relevant statutory provisions, to co-operate with him so far as is necessary to enable that duty or requirement to be performed or complied with.
Section eight of the Act is also relevant and reads:
No person shall intentionally or recklessly interfere with or misuse anything provided in the interests of health, safety or welfare in pursuance of any of the relevant statutory provisions.
So your health and safety policy needs to contain these employee duties which brings us nicely onto communication.
The content of the Health and Safety Policy must be communicated to employees. They must be provided with a copy to read and have a copy available at all times. It is a good idea to have a document which the employee signs during their new starter induction to say they have read, understand and will work to the requirements of the health and safety policy.
Communication should not be confused with Consultation.
Consultation is usually in the form of a meeting between employer representatives and employee representatives. There is usually someone impartial also in the meeting such as your external health and safety advisor.
Employee consultation is a legal requirement and should not be ignored. However, is it acceptable in small businesses to have an open door policy for communication where staff are encouraged to raise health and safety concerns with management. It is wise to document any discussions and decisions to provide a trail of evidence if every it be required.
Arrangements for Managing Health and Safety
This is the third and largest section of the policy and is the nitty gritty. The actual HOW of what you are trying to achieve.
The arrangements section of a health and safety policy is usually separated in to sections, each covering a separate health or safety risk. For example
Work at Height
Control of Contractors
There are many other issues which are covered in detail which I have not listed above.
Each section explains what actions will be taken to ensure risks are identified, controlled and managed. The sections can be considered little policies covering a specific topic which clarify who is responsible and what actions should be taken to comply.
Health and Safety is often viewed as paperwork for paperworks sake and it is true that the old school method of safety is to provide large manuals in small print. Times have changed and the paperwork burden has been lessened over the years by newer effective policies which do not rely on stringent procedures and forms signed in triplicate.
Having said that, there is a need for record keeping to some extent so you, as a business owner, can demonstrate you have done all you can reasonably practicable to ensure the health, safety and welfare, whilst at work, of your employees.
If a personal injury claim is brought against the company or if there is a Health and Safety Executive investigation, the easiest way to demonstrate you have done what you need to is to provide a paper trail of evidence that you have managed you duties and communicated requirements to employees.
Records can be kept electronically. They just need to be available and easy to retrieve when you are asked for them. With accidents, don’t forget compliance to the Data Protection Act will be required so files may need to be secured with a password.
Benefits of having a Safety Policy
- Demonstration of compliance to the Health and Safety at Work Act
- Lower insurance premiums
- Defence in Personal Injury Claims
- Disciplinary tool for those failing to meet their employee duties
- Ability to tender for public and private sector work
- Application for SSIP Level 1 Accreditations
What to do now
- Ensure you have a health and safety policy or review your current policy.
- Download our Policy Workbook check your policy is up to date or Download a Free Health & Safety Policy Statement by clicking here
- Update to the policy to ensure the latest legal requirements are met.
- Check the arrangements section meets the current legal requirements.
- Ensure the organisational section is relevant.
- Sign and date the Health and Safety Policy Statement of Intent.
- Communicate the updated policy to all employees.