As a business owner or manager, it’s your job to ensure your staff are working in a safe and secure environment. Thinking about health and safety isn’t an optional extra, it’s a legal requirement, and it's vital to ensure accident prevention during the day-to-day running of your business. If you have less than five employees, you don’t need to have a written health and safety policy. However, it’s good practice to have one in place, especially if your business is expanding and you’re likely to take on more staff in the future. So how do you go about writing one?

In this article we break the process down into simple, digestible steps to make writing a health and safety policy a breeze.

What should be included in a health and safety policy?

The legal requirement for a health and safety policy is set out in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA). It sets out how you want to manage health and safety effectively and what you want to achieve (statement of intent). It details the organisation of health and safety (who has responsibility) and details how you are going to achieve the aims of your policy (how risks are actually managed). Most businesses will organise their policies in line with those three sections.

Here are three key things you'll need to include in your health and safety policy:

1. Statement of intent

Your statement of intent will set out what the general aims and objectives of your health and safety policy are and how your company intends to manage health and safety. It should be in clear, simple language and can be broken down into bullet points. However, you should avoid vague or evasive language such as “we will do everything possible to prevent accidents”.

Instead you should include statements which make reference to identifying the principle risks to employees and others and controlling those risks, make a commitment to maintain the basic principles of the HSWA so far as is reasonably practicable to do so, make sure employees are competent to do their roles, provide for training of employees, include regular review of your health and safety policy and have the necessary resources in place to implement the policy.

2. Responsibility for health and safety

Next you need to identify who has responsibility for health and safety within your organisation. You also need to identify the different roles for health and safety. In a small business this might be just one person.

Depending on the size of your business you might want to do an organisational chart which will show every person in your company with responsibility, what their positions are and what their roles are. If you are a small business with just a handful of employees without a complex management structure, then a simple list with responsibilities listed besides them will be sufficient.

3. The risks and how they are managed

The third part of your health and safety policy will be the most detailed one, and again its length depends on the size of your organisation. With multiple roles, processes and sites your list of risks to be managed could be quite long, but with a single site and just a few employees you can afford to be more succinct.

Each risk will require its own heading, details of what the risk is, how you manage the risk to either reduce or eliminate it and who is responsible for ensuring those requirements are met.

The types of risk will depend on your business, but may include:

  • Electrical testing
  • Operating machinery
  • First aid
  • Alcohol and drugs policy
  • Control of substances hazardous to health (COSHH) policy
  • Risk assessment procedures
  • Fire evacuation procedures 
  • Welfare procedures.

4. Additional requirements 

There may be additional actions you undertake to support your health and safety policy which you can include in the third section. These could be things like staff health and safety training, high visibility or protective clothing, ongoing work to reduce use of harmful chemicals or the installation of permanent health and safety measures such as better lighting, signs highlighting risks and procedures.

Learn why employee health and wellbeing is key to business success

Actioning your health and safety policy

Once you have written your health and safety policy it will need to be signed off by the person with overall responsibility. That could be you if you’re the owner or managing director. If you’re a manager tasked with writing the policy, it could be your senior manager.

It’s a good idea to make sure everyone who is named as responsible in the document is given a copy of it and made aware of their role. All contractors and sub-contractors should also be informed, and a copy should be provided to each new employee.

In addition, you are legally required to display a Health and Safety Law poster where your staff can easily read it.

Following through on your health and safety policy

You should review your policy annually, or more often if procedures change. It is also important to be realistic in what you write. For example, if you carry out health and safety inspections every three months, don’t write that they’re done monthly. In the event of an accident, the health and safety inspector might want to see your monthly reports but if you’re only doing it quarterly, they’ll start to wonder what else you’re not doing! 

It doesn’t have to be complicated

Your policy doesn’t have to be longwinded or overly complex – a long document doesn’t necessarily make for a good health and safety policy! It’s not about box ticking but rather explaining what you do, what the risks are and how you manage them. You want staff to understand their responsibilities quickly and to appreciate what you’re trying to achieve.

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