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health and safety law in business
7 min read

How does Health & Safety affect my business?

It may seem like health and safety requirements have gone mad – that the authorities are forever piling needless rules, regulations and red tape on hard working business people. But the truth is accidents do happen in the workplace. Every business has health and safety responsibilities. Here’s what you need to know about how health and safety law in business will affect you.

Why is health and safety in a business important?

Accidents in the workplace occur because someone does something wrong, or doesn’t do something they should do. Nearly all accidents and things that damage someone’s health are preventable.

Each year in Britain are about 150 people lose their lives, 150,000 people are injured and about two million suffer from ill health caused or made worse by work.  And small businesses have more than their fair share of incidents –  for example, the fatality rate in small and medium size manufacturers is about twice that of large ones.

As an employer – even if you only employ yourself – you have a legal responsibility to prevent people being harmed or becoming ill in the workplace. This makes good business sense too – accidents and health incidents can cause disruption, lead to extra expense and damage your reputation.

What are the sorts of things that can go wrong?

Here are common health and safety incidents:

  • Slips, trips and falls: these are the most common causes of injury at work. They’re particularly frequent in catering businesses but can happen in any workplace
  • Strains and sprains: people can hurt themselves lifting even everyday loads. Workers who perform repetitive or forceful manual activities can develop repetitive strain injuries (RSI). Poor posture, inadequate chairs, and badly positioned computer screens can cause back, arm and neck strain
  • Burns, cuts and crushes: improper use of tools, poor maintenance of equipment, and careless storage of materials cause many accidents
  • Falls from height: these cause about 60 fatalities and around 4,000 serious injuries every year
  • Hazardous substances: exposure to chemicals, dust, and fibres – by breathing them in, swallowing them, getting them on the skin or in the eyes – can cause serious conditions and in some cases can even be fatal
  • Fire and explosions: improper storage and handling of flammable materials and liquids can cause burns and injury from smoke inhalation
  • Electric shock: every year deaths and permanent injuries are caused by shocks from faulty electric appliances and from contact with power cables
  • Vehicles: over 2,000 people a year are seriously injured in accidents involving different types of workplace vehicles
  • Stress: excessive pressure can cause stress that’s very damaging to health
  • Excessive noise: power tools, impact tools, hammering, can all cause hearing loss
  • Vibration: some types of power tools and plant can cause painful and permanent damage to hands, arms and backs.

How do I protect myself and others from accidents and damage to health?

You need to establish a system to manage health and safety. For example:

  • produce a health and safety policy
  • designate a competent person to be responsible for health and safety (this could be you)
  • set up a way of planning, organising, monitoring and reviewing preventative measures.

If you’re subjected to a health and safety inspection you may need to provide evidence that you have a properly thought-through and systematic approach.

If you employ more than five people you must set out your approach in a written health and safety policy statement. Creating a policy doesn’t need to be a time consuming and complicated process. The Health and Safety Executive provides templates and examples of such statements.


What is risk assessment?

It’s impossible to eliminate every risk but health and safety law in business requires you to take ‘reasonable and practical’ steps to protect people, including yourself.

  • Identify any hazards – things that could cause harm. If you have employees ask them – they may be aware of things that you haven’t noticed
  • Decide how you are going to control the hazards you’ve identified. Wherever it’s practical get rid of a hazards. For example, fix broken handrails, repair or replace defective equipment, change dangerous chemicals for less harmful ones
  • If you can’t remove the hazard you need to control it to reduce the risk it will cause and minimise harmful effects
  • Once you’ve identified risks and decided upon measures to control them make sure that anyone you employ understands them – if you have more than five employees you must put this into writing
  • Be aware that for some risks the law specifies control measures that you must use 
  • Each type of business will have its own risks – some being more severe than others – but the way of doing a risk assessment is the same.

To find out more on risk assessment visit the Health and Safety Executive’s website to view their risk assessment tool and various risk assessment case studies

Do I have to provide training and information on health and safety?

If you have employees you must provide them with clear guidance and training. For example, ensure that they have a good understanding of:

  1. any hazards and risks they may face
  2. what measures they need to take to deal with those risks. For some businesses this may involve providing detailed guidance on the safe use of equipment, what personal protective equipment (PPE) needs to be worn, etc. For others it may mean giving simple guidance on general safety, for example when changing a light bulb use a stepladder – don’t stand on a chair
  3. what emergency procedures they need to follow, for instance in case of a fire.

Health and safety training needs to happen during working hours and you must not expect employees to pay for it themselves.

What should I do about first aid?

If you are an employer the law requires you to provide ‘adequate and appropriate’ first aid equipment and facilities, and a person/people to enable the giving of first aid. There are minimum requirements for low risk workplaces such as offices and shops. As an employer your workplace should have the following:

health and safety law in business

First aid box

The decision on what to provide will be influenced by the findings of the first-aid needs assessment. As a guide, where work activities involve low hazards, a minimum stock of first-aid items.

Find out more

This should be stocked with a minimum of: first aid guidance leaflet – 20 individually wrapped sterile adhesive dressings (plasters) – 2 sterile eye pads – 4 individually wrapped sterile triangular bandages – 6 safety pins – 6 medium and 2 large individually wrapped unmedicated wound dressings – 1 pair of disposable gloves.

For employees whose jobs involve travelling, provide them with personal first aid kits. It is recommended that tablets and medicines are not kept in the first-aid box.

Items, particularly sterile ones, with expiry dates should be replaced by the dates given and expired items safely disposed. If sterile items have no dates, it’s advisable to check with manufacturers to find out how long they can be kept. For non-sterile items without dates, it’s a matter of judgement.

how does health and safety affect a business

‘Appointed person’

When an employer’s first-aid needs assessment indicates that a first-aider is unnecessary, the minimum requirement is to appoint a person to take charge of first-aid arrangements.

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A person needs to be appointed to take charge when someone is taken ill or has an accident, e.g. to arrange for an ambulance or other way of getting to hospital. They also need to replenish any used items in the first aid box. An appointed person needs to be available at all times, so make sure you have deputies to cover for absence.

NB. An appointed person, unlike a first aider, does not have to be trained in giving first aid. However, emergency first-aid training courses are available.

Find out more about Training first aiders and Selecting first aid training providers

Forklift driver


Signs should be placed where they can be seen and not obstructed from view. They should also be easily identified.

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These need to tell employees where the first aid box is located and who the appointed person/people are (or first aiders if you have them). If your business is spread over different locations or separate floors of a building make sure that you have notices for each of these.

All first-aid boxes should have a white cross on a green background. 

A copy of a Health and Safety law poster can be purchased here.

Worker in protective gear carrying barrel

Riskier environments

A trained first-aider is needed in a workplace where there are more significant health and safety risks. 

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If your employees face significant  risks – such as hazardous substances, dangerous tools, machinery, loads or animals – you need to consider extra measures such as having one or more people trained to be first aiders, providing extra first aid equipment and giving specific training, e.g. on safe use of machinery, manual handling, etc.

View the health and safety toolbox on the Health and Safety Executive’s website: How to control risks at work


What insurance do I need?

There are two types of insurance related to health and safety:

  • Employers’ Liability Insurance. If you employ anyone you need this. As long as you’ve taken reasonable steps to prevent accidents or harm to your employees you shouldn’t have to pay compensation. However, if a court does find you liable, employers’ liability insurance will help you to pay compensation. You need to display your certificate of insurance where employees can see it.
  • Public Liability Insurance. This is designed to protect you from claims from members of the public relating to harm or damage caused by your business activities. You need this insurance if your business involves contact with the public, for example if you have a shop or if you’re a tradesperson.

Checklist: What else do I need to do?

Here are the other key health and safety requirements if you employ people. Login to save this checklist to your profile for future use – as you work through the list, any checkboxes that are ticked or unticked will be automatically saved to your profile. To register to join and enjoy the benefits of membership click on the link at the top right of the page. It will only take a few minutes to create your profile.

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