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A guide to workplace health and safety

As a small business owner, you can’t ignore your health and safety obligations.

While it’s not the most exciting topic on the small business radar, health and safety matters. It matters because as soon as you start a business, you become responsible for the health and safety of employees, visitors and anyone affected by services or products that you design or supply. So, here’s a quick summary of the things you need to know.

Registering your business

If you’re a business that works with hazardous substances or equipment, you’ll need to contact the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). You may require a licence to operate and this should be granted by either the HSE or your local authority.

If you’re in any doubt, check out the HSE website.

Risk assessments

Risk assessments are fairly self-explanatory – you need to work out the health and safety issues at your premises.

Essentially, this means identifying hazards. Look out for cables, loose tiles, fire risks, old or faulty equipment, and potentially hazardous gases and substances.

Create a health and safety policy

Unless you’re self-employed, you’re legally obliged to create a health and safety policy. It should set out your approach to maintaining health and safety, any measures you’ve put in place, and how responsibility is delegated.

If you have specific procedures in place for using dangerous equipment, these can be mentioned in your policy too.

Employees’ health and safety rights

Common sense should prevent any potential problems in this area, but here are the basic things you must provide:
• Clean toilets, hand basins and soap
• Fresh drinking water
• Sufficient personal space (11 cubic metres is recommended by the HSE)
• A temperature between 13°C and 16°C (depending on your business)
• A suitable rest area

Responsibility for health and safety

You’ll need a plan for managing serious incidents.

Making sure at least some of your staff are first aid trained is a good idea, but having a first aid kit on-site is a must. You’ll also need an accident book to log any health-related incidents, in case you need to inform the authorities.


All waste must be appropriately contained, treated, stored and removed. Also, find out whether anything you dispose of should be recycled – providers of electrical equipment, for example, are required by EU law to recycle it.

Needless to say, if waste originating from your business harms your employees, customers or anyone else besides, you could face hefty fines and damaging penalties.

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