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Health & safety: What are your obligations?

If your business has employees or if you work with the public, there are certain responsibilities you need to be aware of.

They range from getting the right insurance to making sure your workplace is safe and hazard-free.


Whether you employ staff or not, you may need insurance if your work puts you in contact with the public.

Public liability cover is designed to pay out if a customer or other member of the public is injured or has their property damaged as a result of something you or your business are responsible for.

So if a customer slips on a wet floor in your shop or café and makes a claim against you, your insurance should pay out. Similarly if you are a tradesman and you cause damage in a customer’s home you should be covered.

If you have staff, you will in most circumstances be required by law to buy employers’ liability insurance. This covers claims from employees who suffer injury or illness as a result of working for you.

The vast majority of employers need this type of policy but if you employ only family members, there is no legal requirement to take out insurance – although it may nonetheless be sensible to do so.

If you have bought employers’ liability insurance you need to display the certificate of cover where employees and health and safety inspectors can view it.

Health and safety

The best way of avoiding claims from employees is by maintaining a safe workplace. The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) says that for most small businesses, managing health and safety doesn’t need to be complicated, expensive or time-consuming.

Rachel Grant from the HSE Growth and Business Unit says: “If you have taken reasonable steps to prevent accidents or harm to your employees – and the injury or illness was caused after 1 October 2013 – you shouldn’t have to pay compensation.”

Put a policy in place

If you have five employees or more, you should have a written health and safety policy. This should state who has overall responsibility for health and safety and who has day-to-day responsibility, as well as what these responsibilities entail – for example, making sure fire escape routes are clear and well signed.

It should also say where the first aid box and accident book are located.

The HSE has some tools to help you draw up your own policy on its website here.

Assess and deal with your risks

This entails working out what the potential hazards are in your business. For low-risk workplaces such as shops and offices, the HSE has an interactive risk-assessment tool.

Once the assessment has been carried out, you should work out what steps are needed to minimise risks.

Again, if you have five or more members of staff, you will need to make a written record of this assessment and the conclusions you’ve drawn.

Grant adds: “Few workplaces stay the same and sooner or later you will bring in new equipment, substances or procedures that could lead to new hazards. It makes sense to review your risk assessment on a regular basis. If anything significant changes, check your risk assessment and update it.”

Consult and train

You should talk to your staff about any concerns they have about workplace safety, as well as tell them about any new measures or policies.

Depending on the size and nature of your business you may need to offer training, although this could be as basic as explaining the fire evacuation procedure or showing employees how to use the first aid kit.

It should be clear who is responsible for first aid arrangements, and you should keep a record of any mishaps in an accident book.

Certain serious accidents or near-misses should be officially reported: for more guidance, see here.

Finally, every employer must display the health and safety law poster or provide a pocket card copy to each member of staff.

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