It’s not uncommon to be faced with a groan when Health and Safety comes up. It’s not the most exciting topic, and even in the most exciting of times, businesses or industries, it’s something that’s seen as a hurdle to getting on with the more interesting or fun tasks. While that may be true, it’s also an important part of any organisation, and there are laws and regulations governing this. That makes it potentially expensive, as well as dangerous, to ignore.
Whether you feel confident in tackling all the areas of Health and Safety for your business, you hire someone to do it in house or you need support from an external organisation, it will be crucial to do right if you want to give your company the best platform from which to succeed.
There are many parts to Health and Safety, and like many things, there are surface level answers and deeper ones. While there might be a simple answer to who is legally responsible for Health and Safety at work, we can look deeper into how this works in practice.
Before we can determine who is responsible for Health and Safety, we need to understand why it matters so much. Many workers spend a large amount of time in the workplace, and there are laws and regulations governing what are acceptable standards for a business to uphold. Beyond this, there’s the incentive of keeping employees happy – they are more likely to feel happy and fulfilled if they know they’re in a safe environment and are valued physically, mentally, and emotionally. This stops your best workers going to the competition.
Carrying out risk assessments, for example, can ensure any hazards are identified and addressed, minimising the potential for accidents to happen – and any injuries employees may suffer as a result. Policies and procedures keep people safe in a range of situations, such as emergencies and evacuations, and investigations into incidents ensure any incidents are learned from to make sure they don’t happen again.
Compliance with Health and Safety is not only good for the business’s finances, but also the wellbeing of everyone involved in the organisation.
Health and Safety at work is the responsibility of everyone in the organisation, however some have more to do than others. From identifying risks and hazards to following the policies created, each worker must do their part to establish and maintain a safe workplace.
In small organisations, there might be an outsourced team handling Health and Safety, or a single person who will be appointed as the Health and Safety Officer. The size could relate to the number of employees or the size of the premises the business operates out of – or both, depending on what the company does.
Larger businesses could employ – or work with – a whole team, each covering a different aspect of Health and Safety depending on their experience and expertise that makes sure nothing is missed.
Whichever option works best for your business depends on your situation, and may change over time. However, making sure everyone knows what’s expected of them goes a long way to keeping the workplace safe, as does open lines of communication where potential issues and situations can be raised by anyone.
Ultimately, however, the one who is legally responsible for Health and Safety at work is the business owner – or employer. This doesn’t mean other employees can ignore Health and Safety and treat it as a box ticking exercise.
Appointing someone to focus purely on Health and Safety is a good way to make sure a business owner can keep their eye on other parts of the organisation that requires attention, especially if that’s more in their area of expertise. Health and Safety can be a daunting topic, and not the most exciting, but that doesn’t diminish its importance. It can be done with research and careful planning, but there’s always the chance something will be missed.
There are severe consequences and large financial penalties that come with poor Health and Safety policies and documentation, and even if there is a dedicated Health and Safety Officer or team, they report to the employer or business owner. This is why accountability stops at the top of a business.
Despite the owner or employer being responsible for Health and Safety in the workplace, employing and assigning a Health and Safety Officer allows someone with the right expertise and knowledge to identify risks, create documentation and implement policies that can all help keep everyone safe at work.
Health and Safety is a constantly changing topic. Rules and regulations are updated regularly to make sure every situation is accounted for, new ways of working are accounted for, and habits and attitudes developed over time are incorporated into the workplace. This means that creating documents and policies once isn’t enough, as they’ll soon be out of date.
Business owners can complete all the Health and Safety requirements themselves, but they will have to keep doing it over time, which can be a poor use of their time and expertise when someone else can do it for them, which is why the role of Health and Safety Officer is so important.
Becoming a Health and Safety Officer varies depending on the seniority of the role and the organisation or industry someone wants to work in. There are plenty of courses to provide the skills and knowledge needed to complete tasks associated with the role, but given how vast a field Health and Safety is, it can take a long time to learn everything.
In most cases, degree-level qualifications aren’t required, but there are exceptions – for example, NHS Health and Safety roles often ask for this level of education. In other organisations, specific training can be used to prove competency in specific areas. This also allows for someone to develop in the role and become a more experienced and well-rounded Health and Safety Officer.
Health and Safety at work covers a lot of topics, and while it is the responsibility of a Health and Safety Officer or business owner to implement the right policies, every member of staff plays a part in ensuring those policies and procedures are followed. This isn’t just for their safety, but the safety of everyone in the workplace, staff and visitors alike.
While a Health and Safety Officer or team have the experience behind them to implement Health and Safety procedures, create documents, and carry out assessments and investigations, these are going to affect the employees of the business at all levels. That means it’s important not only to comply with laws and regulations but also to make sure people are able to do their jobs safely and efficiently.
This can be tricky to balance, but there are some ways to make it easier.
With any aspect of Health and Safety, the best approach is to be thorough. Every policy, document, assessment and investigation needs to be well-thought out and comprehensive, covering as many situations as possible. The more details included, the better prepared everyone in the business will be for any incident that occurs.
This isn’t a one-time exercise, either. Whenever an incident does arise, it’s important to reevaluate the relevant document or process and look at where improvements can be made to prevent similar situations from occurring again. Updating documents, and making sure everyone is aware of the changes made, goes a long way to helping everyone stay safe.
While unavoidable at times, complicated language and jargon can make it harder for everyone to be on the same page when it comes to a policy or document. While there might be a need in some organisations to include technical terms and information for recording purposes, it’s important to keep in mind the audience of your documents and processes.
This might mean multiple versions intended for different people. That means errors can slip in, and the meanings should be the same in all documents relating to a single area, but the benefits are that everyone is aware of what to do, how to act and what to watch out for as they complete their work.
Simply sharing a document or process once is not enough. Once completed, or updated, it’s important to let everyone know about it and ensure they’re aware of what it contains. Summaries can also be useful, especially for specific incidents or updates that are self-contained, and these can be shared in communal areas of the workplace as well as electronically.
You should also make it clear where people can access this information regularly is also helpful, as are in-person meetings to discuss Health and Safety topics, which present opportunities for discussion that could be missed through email or passing around paper documents.
In some cases, it’s a great idea to consult with staff on Health and Safety topics. As the people who are going to be affected by the policies and rules, their input can be invaluable in finding a balance between what needs to be done, what the business wants to do and what the staff feel will keep them safe but also productive.
Health and Safety in the workplace can cover a lot of areas, including obstructions or trip hazards, suitable clothing, cleaning schedules and much more, but in focusing on making the environment safe, policies can cause confusion and put obstacles in the way of getting work done – which is not the desired effect. Consulting with staff can help with this.
We’ve explained that everyone has a responsibility for Health and Safety at work, but it’s important that these responsibilities are explained clearly to everyone at regular intervals. This is especially important with new staff, promotions and changes to policies or documents that require action by a person or some people.
This matters for day-to-day life in the workplace, but more importantly for emergency situations, such as an evacuation or other incident. Without knowing who is assigned to do what, people can panic and cause more harm to each other, which increases the damage and distress caused. Training for emergency situations and how to use specific tools and equipment is also helpful.
While the business owner and employer is ultimately responsible for Health and Safety in the workplace, everyone has their part to play in creating a safe working environment. Making sure these responsibilities are clear to everyone can ensure that any accident investigation can clearly identify where processes can be improved to prevent an incident repeating itself. No matter how thorough your Health and Safety processes and documents may be, allowing people to become complacent invites incidents to happen.
At Rhino Safety, our team of experts can help you put Health and Safety policies, documents and procedures together to make sure the business is fully compliant with all regulations and laws, as well as make sure everyone, from owner to management to employee, understands their part in creating and maintaining a safe workplace. If you’d like to know more about how we can help, contact a member of the Rhino Safety team today.