Business Owners – What You Should Know About Your Legal Health and Safety Responsibilities

10 September 2014

In running a company, business owners have responsibility for a lot more than the bottom line. All businesses have a “duty of care” to ensure as far as possible the health, safety and welfare of their employees while at work. In addition, businesses are also responsible for the health and safety of visitors to the premises, such as customers, suppliers and the general public.

Despite this, many business owners are unaware of their legal obligations under Health and Safety at Work legislation. For example, a recent survey by FireUK revealed that 9 out of 10 businesses with less than 10 employees were failing to conduct appropriate fire-risk assessments or carry out basic fire-safety procedures. The vast majority – 86% – was unaware of this legal requirement and many did not even have an appointed person in charge of fire safety. Whatever the reason for such failings – a lack of knowledge, confusion over regulations or simply willful neglect – the law is clear and failure to comply can result in stiff fines or even prison sentences.

Risk Assessments

As part of their ‘duty of care’, business owners should begin with a risk assessment to evaluate any potential health and safety hazards. This should be a written assessment and provide as much detail as possible. In addition, businesses must appoint a ‘competent person’ with responsibility for the health and safety of employees and visitors to the workplace. This can be the business owner or a member of staff trained in health and safety. Companies employing five or more people must also keep an official record of the results of the assessment – including measures taken by the employer to deal with the risks highlighted by the assessment – as well as enact a formal health and safety policy.

A professional risk assessment will highlight many potential workplace hazards and provide instruction on how to deal with them. Here are 12 basic health and safety precautions that should be carried out by employers.

  1. Make sure that all plant and machinery is safe to use and that all materials are handled, used and stored safely.
  2. Ensure that toilets, washrooms and rest facilities are compliant with health, safety and welfare requirements.
  3. Minimise the risk of fire by regularly checking electrical wiring and avoiding overloading or overheating of sockets.
  4. Ensure premises have adequate ventilation to avoid harm caused by gas or other poisonous fumes.
  5. Take adequate precautions to protect against risks caused by flammable or explosive materials, electrical equipment, noise and radiation.
  6. Implement safe working practices and ensure they are followed by all employees.
  7. Provide first aid facilities that are appropriate to the work handled and the associated risks involved.
  8. Check that all work equipment is properly used, well maintained and regularly checked for faults.
  9. Provide employees with any protective clothing or equipment they require free of charge.
  10. Inform all employees about any potential hazards faced at work – such as manual handling, chemicals and other substances – and provide sufficient training for employees to deal with any emergency.
  11. Issue appropriate warning signs and ensure they are clearly visible to, and respected by, employees and visitors.
  12. Where appropriate, report accidents, injuries, diseases and dangerous incidents to the local authority or the Health and Safety Executive.

Carrying out a professional risk assessment not only ensures that business owners stay within the law and protect the health and safety of their employees. It also provides peace of mind by protecting businesses as far as possible against accidents, injury and other potentially life-threatening situations. Ignorance is no excuse in the eyes of the law – business owners must understand their legal requirement to protect employees, visitors and the general public.

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