In practical terms, health and safety at work is a combination of compliance and common sense. On the one hand, you do need to understand the relevant legislation and any actions you must take regardless of your situation (e.g. providing first aid kits).
On the other hand, much of the law effectively says that you need to look at your own particular situation and apply common sense. The good news is that implementing legal and effective health and safety procedures can be a lot easier than some people might think.
Health and safety consultants Watson and Watson share a few points to guide you:
The purpose of health and safety at work is to protect all people from harm
One of the key points of health and safety at work is that it applies to all people who come within the orbit of a business, not just employees. For example, it would extend to any contractors, representatives of third-party vendors and members of the public.
Health and safety at work rules also apply to the self-employed as well as to the employed, albeit only insofar as their business could impact other people.
In other words, while it’s largely left to the freelancer to decide what, if anything, they need to do to take care of themselves, but they are expected to take reasonable steps to protect other people.
It is now recognized that harm can be mental as well as physical
Although much of the focus of risk prevention is still on physical risks which could lead to injury (or illness), it’s important to remember that the definition of harm extends to mental health as well as physical health.
Mental conditions such as anxiety and stress are recognized as forms of harm and therefore businesses need to take effective measures to protect their employees from them.
These could include having robust management practices in place to identify and deal with any instances of inappropriate behaviour (including on the part of customers), ensuring reasonable workloads and helping employees to maintain a healthy work/life balance.
Health and safety at work is massively contextual
The main forms of physical risks are essentially as follows:
• Electrical safety
• Fire safety
• Manual handling
• Slips and trips
• Working at height
In principle, these apply across most, if not all, industries (the exception being working at height, which is mainly for the construction industry and a few other specialist niches) but what they mean in practice will vary greatly depending on the nature of the business.
For example, in a construction environment, “electrical safety” could mean developing processes to manage high-powered electrical equipment in different weather conditions, including rain.
In an office environment, by contrast, it may simply mean checking that everything is PAT tested before being plugged into the mains.
The purpose of insurance is to supplement health and safety, not replace it
Sometimes the law requires you to have insurance and many times insurance will be required as a condition of being granted a certain privilege, such as the right to access a third party’s goods or services.
For example, it’s quite common for real-world marketplaces to insist that traders have their own third-party liability insurance as a condition of using the premises. Even when it isn’t obligatory, it can be a very sensible precaution.
The key point to remember, however, is that insurance is intended as a safety net for when accidents happen in spite of companies having taken the best health and safety precautions, not as a substitute for them.
In fact, it’s usually a safe bet that the terms and conditions of any insurance policy will specify that the policy is only valid if the policyholder takes reasonable steps to prevent the incidents the policy covers.