Health and safety: just common sense?

Meet your health and safety obligations by using our checklist to get yourself up to speed

Health and safety is enough to cause the steeliest of entrepreneurs to shudder. But Jon Card finds it can be far more straightforward than its image suggests

Although it seems to have become an obsession in recent years, health and safety (H&S) in the UK is governed primarily by a relatively old piece of legislation, The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The main provision is that employers must ensure the health and safety of their staff as far as is “reasonably practical”. Precisely what that means is open to interpretation, but it doesn’t suggest omniscience or infallibility, and it certainly doesn’t imply any accident is automatically the employer’s fault.

“The core point is that health and safety is about sensible risk management,” says Stephen Thomas of H&S consultancy Croner. “It is not about tying up employers with red tape.” 

Your policy

Every company needs an H&S policy, and if you have more than five employees, it must be a written one. Your staff need access to it, so issuing it to managers or posting it as a ‘read only’ document on your network are both good options. Sample policies can be found online for free, but you still need to make sure that what is written in yours is in fact what your company does.

Aside from the 1974 act, there are many regulations that relate to specific industries, and you must be aware of the ones that apply to yours. A common theme is that staff must be trained to do their jobs in as safe a way as possible.

One area that entrepreneurs often neglect, for example, is driving. Since the introduction of the Corporate Manslaughter Act, which can lead to companies paying unlimited fines, it’s more relevant than ever. If your staff use cars for their job, beyond travelling to work, you need to undertake a full risk assessment, ensure they’re qualified to the relevant standard, have business insurance and that their vehicle is roadworthy. You should also give all employees a policy stating that you expect them to obey traffic laws and should only ever drive when fully able to do so.

Some companies bring in a H&S consultant to undertake a risk assessment and train staff. This can be a good idea, but if you do so, you’ll still need a responsible person on site to manage your policy and receive reports of any accidents. Preferably, this should be a well-respected staff member. “It’s also worth remembering that employees have duties to look after their own welfare and those around them,” points out Michael Veal, of law firm Lester Aldridge. “They have to exercise their common sense as well.”

Health and safety checklist

Can you answer “yes” to all of the questions below?  

  • Is there a single person responsible for H&S?
  • Do you have a written H&S policy and does everyone know where it is?
  • Have all your employees conducted risk assessments of their workstations?
  • Do you have an accurate accident book?
  • Have you formally responded to all H&S concerns from staff and reported any accidents to the Health and Safety Executive?
  • Have all electrical items in your workplace been tested in the last two years?
  • Do you have copies of drivers’ licences, insurance documents and MOT certificates?
  • Do you have an up-to-date H&S poster displayed on your office wall?
  • Have your employees been trained to do their jobs in a safe fashion?
  • Are all chemicals/cleaning fluids stored securely?


(will not be published)