5 things SMEs need to know about health and safety law

Health and safety can be a complicated thing — and it gets even more complicated when the law is concerned. In 2014, a survey conducted by HSE revealed that 64 per cent of business owners struggled with figuring out which regulations applied to them and 72 per cent of business owners found keeping up with new regulations a burden.

As a health and safety lawyer, my day job consists of dealing with personal injury claims from employees of unsafe businesses. It’s amazing how many businesses wind up with claims of negligence because they didn’t follow basic health and safety law. So to make sure your business doesn’t wind up on the wrong side of a hefty fine (or even a jail sentence), here are five things SMEs need to know about health and safety law.

1. Go straight to the source

The HSE website contains an exhaustive list of all the health and safety policies a business owner will need to understand. Sometimes, this list will link outwards to other organisations affiliated with HSE itself, but this is always the best place to start for finding information. As it comes straight from the government itself, you know that it’s advice that’ll keep you on the right side of the law.

2. Common sense goes a long way

HSE provides a handy PDF detailing the basics of what employers and employees should know about health and safety law — and a lot of it is actually quite obvious. Employers have to provide their staff with protective equipment, free safety training, toilets, washing facilities and drinking water. In turn, staff are required to follow health and safety training and tell employers about their health and safety concerns. It just makes sense.

3. Even start-ups need a health and safety policy

You’re a bunch of university graduates with a decent grasp of tech and a great idea. You start a business in your mum’s basement and, before you know it, you have seven employees and you’re actually making money. Still, your business is only small. Surely, you don’t need a proper health and safety policy, right?

Wrong. Every business with more than five staff members needs a health and safety policy. To do otherwise is to run counter to HSE’s advice. This policy should consist of a risk assessment, hazard prevention, clearly defined safety protocol and relevant safety training among other things, depending on the size of your business and your industry.

4. Yearly inspections from an outside expert

In most industries, there is often some kind of legal requirement for inspections from an outside expert at least once a year. If you’re a landlord whose small business consists of renting properties, you are legally obliged to make sure that the gas appliances in all of your properties have a gas safety check at least once a year.

If your small business uses some kind of storage equipment to store products, you need to make sure your storage system receives an expert racking inspection at least once a year. In fact, the larger expectation is that all work equipment is inspected “at suitable intervals”. A good shorthand for that would be — you guessed it — once a year.

5. The UK’s HSWA 1974 and Jersey’s HSWA 1989 are both still in force

The law is built upon the foundations of the law. As a result, while both the UK’s HSWA (Health and Safety at Work etc Act) 1974 and Jersey’s HSWA (Health and Safety at Work Act) have been updated numerous times, a large bulk of them remain the same.

There’s good reason to respect this. Since the laws were introduced, workplace fatalities have reduced by a staggering 85 per cent and workplace injuries have fallen by 77 per cent. In other words, workplace health and safety law exists for a reason.

Christopher Austin is an advocate at Parslows, a law firm in Jersey, where he is an expert in a number of areas of Jersey law, including litigation, personal injury,  health and safety law, employment law and criminal law.

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