Small business owners, just like proprietors of larger scale enterprises, have a duty to protect the welfare of their staff, their customers and themselves. Those starting new businesses need to be aware that this duty is enshrined in law and that there are certain steps they must take in order to safeguard themselves and their employees.
There are general requirements that everyone must meet and there are also various specialist regulations that pertain to specific industries. It makes sense to know the law thoroughly, so as to get all the health and safety (H&S) basics right from the start.
Assess the risks and take action
To protect employees and customers, first of all assess any risks that could affect health and safety at work. This simply means considering what might cause harm or be hazardous and then putting in place mechanisms to ensure that potential dangers are made safe. Just as a homeowner wants to make sure, for example, that electrical fittings and sockets are in good working order and safe, so it is important that a business owner carries out the same checks in the workplace. Remember that safety in the workplace might also pertain to a good working atmosphere, with positive working relationships and without aggression or any form of discrimination. The workplace might be an office, shop, hotel or factory; it might be a temporary building, like a marquee or a portable building on a construction site; it might even be someone’s home, as working from home is now very common for both full-time and part-time employees. For every kind of workplace there are H&S regulations that have to be adhered to.
The possible impacts of H&S
Creating and implementing a good H&S policy when setting up a new business means the company is more likely to keep workers in good health and injury-free, and possibly might even save lives; a well cared for workforce is also generally a happy one. It can also be cost-effective for a small business, as work-related injuries can be expensive and damaging to a firm’s reputation if they involve, for example, hospitalization or a court case. Where a company is found to be negligent in terms of failing to protect its workers or its customers, heavy fines can be imposed. It certainly pays, in the longer term, to invest a relatively modest amount in getting things right in the first place, by purchasing the correct safety gear, such as clothing and protective equipment. This might include the provision of anti-glare screens for computer users.
Improving H&S knowledge
There are readily accessible sources of information about health and safety issues for new businesses, including government websites; Trade Unions will also provide information on health and safety issues. Some of these sources are also useful for researching statistics relating to specific industries.
There are also bodies representing individual industries that publish regular updates and news about any changes in the law. Agencies that provide H&S training will often also assist with expert risk assessments and audits – really useful if the entire field of H&S is new to the small business owner just starting out. In fact, even established businesses benefit from regular audits undertaken by an external body, as they will often identify areas where changes that would benefit employees, employers and customers, have been overlooked.
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