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How to improve health & safety in the workplace

12 min read  |   30 November, 2021   By Sarah Benstead

Three colleagues are sat working at a desk together. Two of them are men wearing flannel shirts and one is a woman wearing a blue shirt and glasses. They are laughing in the office.
    

As the employer of an SME, it’s vital that you are aware of the importance of health and safety. Although your employees are partially liable when it comes to the safety of both themselves and others, it’s ultimately down to you to ensure risks are kept to a minimum and no one is exposed to harm.

For more information on the responsibilities of an employer, click here.

Practising good health and safety is the law, and if you fail to comply you could have some nasty consequences waiting for you - and not just the obvious ones like fines or imprisonment. Non-compliance can wreak havoc on your business: you could soon be kissing good-bye to thriving productivity levels, a fantastic reputation within your industry and talented staff that make your business what it is.  

In this article, we'll cover how to improve health and safety in your workplace. Greg Guilford, CEO of HR Solutions has also provided his expertise in the field to examine how to avoid the 5 most common health and safety mistakes. 

How to improve health & safety in 5 initial steps

So, it’s needless to say that your employees' health and safety is not worth risking. And, to give you a helping hand, here are 5 easy ways to help you improve health & safety in your workplace.

Assess and inspect 

Once you have a health and safety policy in place, you’ll need to carry out a risk assessment to evaluate where your workplace currently stands and what you may need to improve.

You’ll firstly need to identify hazards and anything that may put your people in danger. This could be anything from trip hazards to dangerous substances such as cleaning fluids or asbestos. 

Once you’ve identified the risks, you’ll need to establish who would be at risk to these hazards. For example, Suzie who works in HR is most at risk to bad posture as she sits at her desk all day, whereas James who works in the warehouse would be most at risk of back strain or injury when lifting heavy loads.

You’ll then need to assess the risks, record the findings and take action accordingly before ensuring that the entire company is aware of these risks and what they need to do to look after their safety. 

For a full guide on how to carry out a risk assessment, head over to this great resource created by Worksmart. 

Training, and lots of it

Health and safety training

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 means you are required to provide your employees with adequate training, as it’s crucial that they know what they need to do at their end to maintain the health and safety of themselves and their colleagues, too.

So who needs training? As the employer, you’ll need to make sure that everyone undergoes training. And this applies to employees, contractors, managers, directors, self-employed people… and you too.

You have a whole host of different options when it comes to how you train your staff. You could train them on the job, carry out some ‘classroom style’ group training or perhaps take the computer based, interactive approach.

You’ll also need to decide who is best to deliver your training. For example, you may go down the route of approaching a local further education college, or maybe you’ll recruit an independent health and safety consultant to deliver the training. 

However you choose to do it, make sure your choice of training fits the needs of your entire workforce and is likely to be the most effective method. For further advice on health and safety training, check out this great guide produced by the Health and Safety Executive.

And, when it comes to training paperwork and documentation, cloud HR software like Breathe can help by keeping everything securely stored in one place. Click here for your free, no obligation 14-day trial and see for yourself.

Communicate with your people

Communication_at_work-12 (1)

Part of maintaining good health and safety in the workplace is communicating policies and any changes directly to your employees.

It’s also a good idea to make health & safety part of your on-boarding process. Meet with each new employee when they start out with your company to bring them up to speed with your policies and health and safety rules. This way, you can ensure each staff member is fully informed from day one.

If a new health and safety issue should arise, meet with your staff and discuss it to ensure everyone is kept in the loop.

You may also want to encourage your employees to share their own ideas around how to improve health and safety in your workplace.

Why do nearly 70% business owners report feeling depressed? Download the Sick Report 2019 for free

Investigate incidents

Should you face an incident of any sort, it’s important that you conduct a full investigation even if it did not result in serious injury. 

If you find out the cause of what happened, you’ll be able to take steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again (and avoid potential more severe consequences).

Tackle stress and support mental health

Colleagues are sitting on chairs in a circle and having a group therapy session to promote employee wellbeing.

The Breathe Sick Report 2019 found that nearly two fifths of UK businesses (37%) have seen an increase in stress-related absence in the last year. And, considering that one in six people report experiencing a mental health problem in any given week, it’s a matter that you as the employer simply cannot ignore.

In fact, according to the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, you’re legally required to protect your employees’ mental health, whether this be stress, depression, anxiety or another condition.

To support your employees and minimise the risk of mental health problems in your workplace, ensure you’re encouraging your staff to take regular breaks and their full allocated lunch break. Leading from the top is crucial here – make sure you’re leading by example and your employees will soon follow. 

Encourage your employees to talk about their mental health. Perhaps you could arrange a ‘mental health group’ that meets once a week for a cuppa and a chat or create a notice board where employees can share what’s on their mind.

For more tips on how to support your employees’ mental health, head over to our recent article.

How to avoid the top 5 common office health & safety mistakes 

Whilst Greg Guilford, CEO of HR Solutions understands the importance of proper health and safety practices, there are common mistakes which are often overlooked, especially in the office environment. The general response to health and safety is typically a little lacklustre. Greg shares his expertise below with how to avoid the most common health and safety mistakes. 

People might think it’s needless red tape, too many instructions to follow, impossible to get right – especially if they don’t think it’s relevant to them on a day-to-day basis. There is often a misconception that health and safety doesn’t contribute to income and turnover. However, get it wrong, and it could cost you so much more. 

Low risk doesn’t mean no risk

In theory, the office is a MUCH safer environment than construction or manufacturing workplaces. You only need to look at recent cases, such as Nestlé UK, to see the potential risks. The company was sentenced and fined £640,000 and ordered to pay £26,234 in costs after a worker trapped his arm in a machine.

However, those types of cases aren’t isolated to physical environments. Fire safety and workplace injury are common health and safety issues in the office. And as employees return to the office, likely on a hybrid working basis, they will need to be reacquainted with training and policies.

Understanding common health and safety mistakes is key to making sure your workplace is up to scratch. The Health and Safety Executive may deem offices as “low risk” – but this doesn’t mean that accidents won’t happen!

Common health and safety mistakes are often caused by:

  • Getting Covid-19 measures wrong
  • Neglecting fire safety
  • Communication issues
  • Not having a competent person
  • Failure to give effective training

 1. Not following Covid-19 measures correctly

Perhaps one of the most topical areas of health and safety at the moment – hence its position on this list. We’ve been in this situation for a while now, which means rigorous measures may have slipped down the priority list.

Remember, you still need to have the correct policies in place to avoid staff or visitors contracting Covid-19 after visiting your workplace.

The best way to scrub up on your procedures is a Covid-19 Risk Assessment. This will highlight areas where you have gaps and need to take action.

It’s important to remember that each business is responsible for drafting and implementing their own policies. And ensuring their staff follow them. Take this recent case as an example:

Kent Foods introduced a policy for all delivery drivers to wear masks when on site. An employee refused on countless occasions and was subsequently dismissed. The employee raised an unfair dismissal claim at an Employment Tribunal. The Employment Tribunal viewed that Kent Foods Ltd had acted reasonably in all the circumstances surrounding the incident, and the employee lost his case.

Your policies are there to protect you. Now is not the time to be complacent.

The Health and Safety Executive announced in May 2021 that it would continue to spot check all businesses for Covid-19 measures. It’s in your best interests to be prepared.

2. Not minimising fire risks

Fire safety is an integral part of workplace health and safety, regardless of a business’s size or scale. In 2020, Fire and Rescue services in England attended 35,000 fires in non-dwelling buildings. These incidents resulted in 115 deaths and 892 non-fatal casualties.

The common causes of fires in offices are:

  • Faulty Electrical Equipment: An electrical fire is an expensive mistake if not caught and contained quickly. Loose wires, faulty connections and overworked plugs can all cause a spark that turns into an uncontrollable blaze.
  • Arson: National Fire Chiefs Council cited arson as the cause for 50.5% of fires attended in 2020. Which means it shouldn’t be overlooked by employers.
  • Flammable Materials: Improper storage of flammable materials is a common cause of workplace fires. Sparks, fumes and spillages not controlled and leaks from barrels, can start a fire with devastating consequences.​
  • Employee error: A harder one to avoid, but, having the correct protocols in place will help you to respond to carelessness and extinguish fires quickly.

As a business, you need to have a fire safety procedure in place. You also need to nominate a Competent Person responsible for your fire safety – we’ll come onto that shortly.

A common assumption with fire safety is that having a fire risk assessment is enough to protect a business. But for the risk assessment to be sufficient – you need to tailor it to your workplace; review it regularly; and train staff to follow it.

3. Lack of communication

Communication is often at the centre of all workplace issues. And health and safety is one of them. Seeing a hazard and reporting it swiftly can be the difference between whether an accident occurs or is avoided. And if there are actions that can be taken to minimise risk – all staff should be aware of them.

Whether its boxes obstructing walkways, a spillage on the stairs, an unstable ladder, voicing concerns is always better than bearing witness to them later. And it’ll protect your organisation too.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommends four key steps for communication: Plan; Do; Check; Act. It also sets out who is responsible for communication of policies or potential hazards, which is well worth reviewing. “Policies should be designed to meet legal requirements, prevent health and safety problems, and enable you to respond quickly where difficulties arise or new risks are introduced.”

4. Not placing someone in charge

Identifying a Competent Person in your business is essential to adhering to the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Fire Safety Reform Order 2005.

Whether you employ 1 person or 1,000 employees – you need to appoint someone internally who is trained correctly. Or reach out to an external service for support. The level of competence will depend on the complexity and the needs of the organisation.

Proof of competence may need to be demonstrated and verified by a regulator, enforcement officers or in the event of an accident, incident, allegation or legal proceeding.

To check whether you can appoint someone internally, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have they or will they have the relevant training?
  • Are they familiar with health and safety and fire regulations?
  • Can they problem solve easily in pressured situations?
  • Do they know your business and the risks associated?
  • Are they in a position of authority to make decisions quickly and minimise hazards?

​If a suitable candidate can’t be identified, then it’s a good idea to get some external support.

5. Failure to invest in training

As we mentioned above, a Competent Person needs to have the correct training to carry out their duties.

The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 requires you to provide whatever information, instruction, training and supervision as is necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of your employees.

HSE advises that providing effective information and training helps you to:

  • Ensure your employees know how to work safely and not risk their health.
  • Develop a positive culture where safe and healthy working becomes second nature.
  • Meet your legal duty to protect the health and safety of your employees.
  • Avoid the distress that accidents and ill health cause.
  • Avoid the financial costs of accidents and occupational ill health.

Training isn’t just a box-ticking exercise. For it to be effective, you need to apply learnings correctly. Remind staff if they make careless mistakes. Reassess staff members you think may be at risk. Invest in external training if it’s something you can’t provide yourself.

New starters should have health, safety and fire training on their induction journey. Current staff should undertake refresher training on a regular basis

Remember, by setting aside some time and money to properly invest in your staff, you could save your company thousands by avoiding accidents. Those accidents don’t just affect your employees – they’re damaging to your brand reputation and credibility.

Are there health and safety risks in your company?

For business owners, there are legal and morale obligations for complying with health and safety.

Yes, an office is an arguably safer environment when compared with other industries – but only if you can ensure safety.

Risk assessments are the easiest way to identify where you can make improvements. HR Solutions offers free online health and safety and Covid-19 risk assessments, which take only ten minutes to complete. They offer a full health and safety service tailored to your needs, including a named Competent Person, to support you with your requirements including fire risk assessments; training; site visits; audits and reviews.

About HR Solutions

HR Solutions is an award-winning HR and Health and Safety consultancy. We’re experts in the field, having delivered outsourced HR consultancy for more than 20 years. We offer a full service for our clients. From Payroll to Administration, Health and Safety to Recruitment, we take the stress out of managing a workforce for over 450 businesses, across multiple industries. We’ve been in business for a while, but we’re growing fast.

Our team of 27 is experienced in helping small business to multi-nationals. Our retained clients are matched with a dedicated HR and/or Health & Safety Consultant, supported by knowledgeable HR Advisors and Administrators. We’re big enough to help. But small enough to care.

Hybrid working and health and safety

Health and safety doesn't just extend to the office. With hybrid working here for the long haul, there are aspects of health and safety to consider when setting up  home-working environments for the long term. If you'd like further information on health and safety guidelines whilst working from home, Jo Blood, MD of Posture People, provides a helpful overview. 

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Sarah

Author: Sarah Benstead

Sarah is a Product Marketing Specialist here at Breathe. Always innovating, she loves writing about product releases in an engaging & informative way. When she's not coming up with new ideas, she enjoys long walks with her dog, Clifford.

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