Keep the workplace safe: health and safety policy
The Health and Safety (Offences) Act introduced more stringent penalties for firms that break the law on health and safety.
As a result, health and safety breaches are now being treated as seriously as other criminal offences, and businesses are urged not to take shortcuts on their health and safety policies in order to reduce costs.
One way of making sure that a workplace is as safe as the law requires is to draw up a health and safety policy.
A health and safety policy sets out the measures used by a business to comply with the law on health and safety in the workplace, and demonstrates how the business manages the risks associated with health and safety issues.
It also provides employees with a guide as to their duties on health and safety and how those duties are to be fulfilled.
All businesses should have a health and safety policy; if the business employees five or more members of staff, the policy must be in writing.
Content of a health and safety policy
It is customary for businesses to divide their health and safety policy into three areas.
The first area is the statement of intent which details a firm's responsibilities on health and safety and the environment, and explains how the firm carries out those responsibilities.
While there is no definitive list of matters that must be covered by a statement of intent, there are a number of issues that most businesses address in their policy.
A statement of intent will make clear a firm's responsibility for ensuring the safety of its workers, its customers and members of the public who may be affected by the firm's activities; it will likewise acknowledge the firm's obligations under the law, and will commit the firm to providing a safe working environment, safe work equipment and safe working procedures.
Also included will be the names of those people within the business who have responsibility for health and safety matters and those who have special health and safety duties. A statement should point out that all employees have a duty to be mindful of their own health and safety and that of their work colleagues. It will conclude by detailing how the business organises the management of its health and safety measures.
The second area deals with those people who hold responsibility for health and safety matters.
This normally means identifying who is responsible for carrying out health and safety risk assessments; conducting inspections; making sure that particular areas of the workplace or particular processes are safe; and assessing the environmental implications of the firm's activities. In the case of larger businesses, it may be necessary to detail the precise allocation of responsibilities on a departmental or managerial basis.
The final area concerns the way in which the firm implements its policies as set out in the statement of intent. This involves explaining the specific measures that have been introduced to safeguard against or reduce as far as is reasonably possible any risks posed by workplace hazards. Likewise detailed in this section should be those measures or arrangements the firm has implemented in order generally to cut down on or manage workplace risks. These include training for staff, warning signs, safety equipment, lighting, replacing hazardous materials with safer or more environment-friendly alternatives and reducing pollution levels. A firm may additionally set out its measures for reducing waste and recycling materials.
A business must consult with its employees on those measures that relate to their health and safety. Employees must also be informed of the content and objectives of the health and safety policy, and must be told where they can find any extra information on the specific responsibilities of people within the firm.
A health and safety policy must be continually monitored for its effectiveness. This will tell a firm whether any of the measures or practices in the policy need to be improved or adjusted.
Guidance on drawing up a health and safety policy can be found on the Health and Safety Executive website at http://www.hse.gov.uk.