Get a no-nonsense approach to health and safety

By Clive Ormerod, Director, OMS, the UK’s leading health and safety training consultants for small and medium businesses

 Clive Ormerod compressed 214x300

“Health and safety gone mad” has become a cliché, summing up how easy it is to get carried away with rules, procedures and paperwork.

So little wonder some small business owners, managers and workers give health and safety short shrift.

Of course, it’s a waste of time to get overly obsessed with health and safety, but ignoring it puts your people and your business in harm’s way. So how should a small firm proceed?

What’s needed is a sensible approach – a balance between enough attention to the subject and a no nonsense approach to unnecessary bureaucracy and restrictions.

First of all, work out what’s appropriate for your type of business. Identify if yours is a higher risk business, for example in construction and engineering where people are working with machinery or in potentially hazardous conditions such as on a roof or in a sewer. If it is, then obviously health and safety is more of a priority than it is in a low risk office, and you also have more onerous legal duties to satisfy.

If your business is office based, you’ll be a lower risk, and there is less legislation to worry about, but there are a few tips for you at the end of this article.

High risk strategy

If you are in the higher risk category, the first step is to make sure you have a competent person on site with a NEBOSH national general certificate or similar. If you don’t have someone in the business, you can outsource the role.

Next, make sure staff have a basic understanding of health and safety. A good place to start with that is a one-day health and safety awareness course such as those we run at OMS. Because these are standard courses running all year round, you don’t have to send all your staff on the same course at the same time, which means the business can keep running while people acquire the necessary skills.

If you have a larger number of staff, it may be more cost effective to attend a course together that’s tailored to your business and can even be held at your premises if you wish. We often use a pick and mix approach, putting together modules relevant to the particular business such as working at height or manual handling relevant to what the firm actually does in practice.

If you are in the construction sector, your people need asbestos awareness and some form of safety passport. That’s generally covered by a one-day safety course.

We make sure training is appropriate rather than a box ticking exercise so if people are using a particular kind of equipment such as MEWP – cherry pickers, access platforms and so on – or aluminium towers, they have the right training in place.

Remember it’s important for small firms to get health and safety right, not just for safety reasons but also because clients may not let you work as a contractor or sub-contractor on site without the appropriate training.

If you have fewer than five employees, you don’t legally have to keep the same health and safety documentation as larger firms. In practice, though, clients will ask you for it.

Low risk returns

In a low risk environment such as an office, the health and safety imperative is vastly reduced but it’s still a good idea to make sure you understand the subject.

I would recommend management training on an IOSH “managing safely” course.

Allowing you to carry out risk assessments and to get a good understanding of the legal concepts and requirements. Office-based risks tend to be more health related than safety related, such as back and wrist complaints from poor seating or display screen equipment, and training is available to address those issues. One of the things managers need to be able to demonstrate is that they give due consideration to stress in the workplace. We also provide training for employees designated as fire marshals.

If you have fewer than five employees, you still have to do risk assessments but you don’t have to record them nor have a health and safety document. Under new legislation, some self-employed people in low risk areas won’t come under the health and safety legislation at all.

If you have more than five employees, you need a documented health and safety policy with a commitment statement and an organisation structure with roles and responsibilities and reporting areas for controlling risk with risk assessment and control measures.

A lot of training for small and medium firms is driven by firms’ clients demanding it or as a result of a visit from the Health and Safety Executive or their insurance company. If during an HSE visit, the inspectors find something amiss, they will charge you for their visit, and you could incur other charges and if it goes on to a prosecution, the costs could be much higher still.

It is better to be prepared, and on that note think ahead. Once you have 10 or 12 people, you need some health and safety capability in house so you’ll need to recruit or train a competent person. It’s a good idea at that stage to come to someone such as ourselves who can provide expert, impartial advice about the kind of person you need and how to recruit or train for the post.

Clive Ormerod is managing director of OMS, one of the UK’s leading suppliers of health and safety compliance training and consultancy.