Every business is responsible for safeguarding the health and safety of anyone affected by its activities, such as employees, customers or visitors to their premises.
The risks to health and safety can differ widely between sectors and individual businesses, of course. In many cases, compliance involves little more than a systematic approach to ensuring common sense precautions are taken to prevent accident and injury. However, businesses engaged in high-risk activities need to focus much more of their attention and resources on health and safety concerns.
Whatever the nature of your business, putting procedures in place to avoid health and safety breaches can help reduce the risk of serious accidents and incidences. In the most serious cases, health and safety failures can lead to serious injury or even death, as well as to potential fines and imprisonment - including liability for corporate manslaughter in some instances.
From 1 October 2015, health and safety law no longer applies to anyone who is genuinely self-employed and whose work poses no potential risk to the health and safety of other workers or members of the public. For health and safety purposes, that means you must not work under a contract of employment and work only for yourself. If you employ others, health and safety laws will still apply to you.
Overview of your health and safety responsibilities
The cornerstone of your health and safety obligations is the requirement to carry out a health and safety risk assessment, including a fire-risk assessment, which involves identifying potential risks in your business and taking steps to remove or minimise them. Contact your local fire safety officer to find out more.
Bear in mind that aspects of your business may present different levels of risk to different people. For example, consider whether there are risks that might particularly affect the health and safety of people with disabilities, pregnant women and new mothers, young people or workers unfamiliar with your premises and procedures.
You should appoint competent people to be responsible for health and safety and make sure they are trained. Make sure you involve and consult employees in your health and safety activities, and consider including health and safety responsibilities in contracts of employment. You should prepare a written health and safety policy - then monitor and regularly review your policies and procedures to improve them.
Employees should be trained to cope with accidents and you should provide equipment such as first-aid kits. Maintain an accident book and a reporting system for serious injuries, diseases and incidents. Posters, leaflets and signage can help keep employees informed.
You are required by law to have employers' liability insurance. You should also check whether you need public liability or any other insurances.
Your business and the environment
Environmental considerations are also a growing concern for many businesses, both in terms of legal requirements and the importance of businesses' green credentials to growing numbers of customers. Many businesses find that steps taken to respond to these environmental demands have the beneficial side-effect of focusing attention on resource efficiency in the business, which can help to cut costs.