Every business in the UK that has employees has to have employers’ liability insurance by law. But if your workplace doesn’t meet stringent safety standards, then your insurance policy may not actually be valid. That means that if you need to claim the insurers won’t be obliged to pay out, and you’ll have to meet any liability claims and legal costs out of your own pocket. Furthermore, you could face fines, sanctions or even imprisonment for failing to meet required government health and safety standards.
Happily, meeting these safety standards needn’t be too difficult, expensive or time-consuming. Following best practice in health and safety brings a multitude of benefits. Besides making sure your insurance is valid and that you are meeting legally required minimum standards, you’ll also be protecting your employees and those members of the public that are allowed into your workplace.
This is action worth taking for its own sake, but having a good reputation for safety will be good for your company in commercial terms and will make it easier for you to recruit a high standard of employees. Conversely, a poor reputation in this area will be detrimental to your company in both cases. Accidents and illness in the workplace reduce productivity, increase employee absence and cost you money in lost man hours, repairs, replacements and legal costs. From any perspective, it makes sense to do all you can to minimise the chances of them occurring.
Meeting Legal Requirements
In most cases if you comply with national health and safety law, as laid down by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) then you will also be compliant with the terms of your employers’ liability insurance and any other safety-related policy you have taken out. However, make sure you read the small print and ask your insurer to clarify anything that you are uncertain about. It’s also important that you let your insurer know about any changes in your business or business premises that could be relevant in terms of safety.
Leading From The Top
You need to be able to show that you have taken all reasonable steps to prevent accidents and illness among your employees. Senior management should be committed to leading on health and safety within the company, as part of a pro-active workplace culture positively focused on health and safety. This should be at least as important as other business goals like productivity, and should never be seen as an afterthought. Focus on meeting targets in health and safety just as you would in any other aspect of business.
You should also appoint a dedicated health and safety advisor, either from within the company or from outside. They should be competent, trained, knowledgeable and experienced. If you need to appoint from outside, you can find a qualified person by consulting the Occupational Safety and Health Consultants’ Register. Your H&S advisor should be part of a safety committee that includes representatives from management and the shop floor workforce. The group should meet regularly, and written minutes should be kept.
With this structure in place, your next step should be to undertake a full risk assessment. This will take the form of a comprehensive workplace inspection, with all risks and hazards noted, again in writing. You should then act to either eliminate or minimise the identified risks, documenting the actions that you have taken. Such risk assessments should be undertaken periodically, at least once a year and also when there are any major changes that may introduce new hazards.
Make sure that you keep an up to date list of services and suppliers who can be contacted in the event of an accident or emergency. It should include all emergency services, plus the likes of plumbers, electricians and emergency glaziers. The contact details of your insurer should also be on this list, and it should be kept in a safe accessible place known to management and employee representatives.
One of the most important and universal aspects of H&S policy is fire safety. You should have a clear action plan in the event of a fire, including an evacuation procedure. Make sure that a number of fire exits are fully accessible and clearly signed. Fire extinguishers and fire retardant blankets should be prominently displayed and regularly checked to make sure that they are functioning. Your workforce should include at least one fully trained fire marshal, and everyone should know exactly how to act in the event of a fire.
Fire alarms should also be regularly checked, and regular fire drills held. These should be logged and recorded. Keep exits free of obstructions, make sure that fire doors are up to accepted standards and check for avoidable fire hazards. Emergency lighting should also be checked regularly.
Keep Track Of Accidents
When injuries do occur, either to employees or members of the public, they should be recorded in the accident log, along with what action was taken and what treatment was provided (if any). The workforce should include one designated first aid person with appropriate training. Employees should be encouraged to report any hazards and unsafe practices to management, and should feel confident that they will be promptly dealt with.
All employees should be fully trained in any job they are expected to do and should be given the appropriate equipment. This should be fully checked and replaced if faulty, damaged or worn. They should also be provided with or told to wear appropriate protective clothing and not be exposed to unnecessary risks. Make sure that enough people are assigned to a task to ensure that it can be accomplished safely.
As well as taking action to ensure workplace safety it is vital that all these actions are documented. If needed you must be able to provide a “paper trail” that shows how you have acted to eliminate or minimise risks. This is especially important if an accident does happen. Your insurer or even a court of law may need to see evidence of exactly what health and safety precautions you’ve taken and when.
By following good health and safety practise you can ensure that your employers’ liability insurance remains valid and that you are operating within the law. Just as importantly you will have peace of mind knowing that your employees are safe at work.