As the end of a tumultuous year approaches, business owners will be busy planning and preparing for a more prosperous 2021. With the country entering another national lockdown on Thursday 5 November and “non-essential” business once again closing their doors, now is the perfect time to review the year gone by and identify areas for improvement, growth and development.
Health and safety policy may not be the most exciting aspect of your business, but it is a legally required document and as such, should be reviewed and where required updated at least annually.
Does Every Business Need a Health and Safety Policy?
The law states that every business with five or more employees must have a written health and safety policy. Smaller businesses can get away without writing anything down but this can be a risky strategy — creating a written policy sets clear expectations and accountabilities and will demonstrate a commitment to safe working practices to minimise the risk of an accident or injury.
Why is it Important to Review Your Policy Regularly?
Health and Safety legislation requires that businesses not only produce a health and safety policy but that they also keep it up to date. A policy that is written when a business is first established then not looked at for years may become outdated if there are significant changes to the business or new regulations come into force.
For example, if you invest in advanced machinery and technologies as the business grows, these are likely to introduce new hazards to the workplace which a policy written prior to their use would not cover. Equally, if the government introduces new health and safety regulations, you must adapt workplace procedures and practices to ensure compliance — your policy should reflect the most current legislation and government recommendations.
How Often Should a Health and Safety Policy be Reviewed?
Every business should review their health and safety policy at least annually, However, it is your responsibility to monitor changes in the business and the law and update your policy as necessary — this may mean reviewing your policy before the end of the year. It is also advisable to review the health and safety policy if there is an accident or near-miss as these incidents may reveal inadequate procedures and processes.
How to Conduct a Health and Safety Policy Review
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) takes the following approach when reviewing a health and safety policy:
- Check that the policy is up-to-date and compliant with current legislation and guidelines.
- Provide clear, practical recommendations in a report format for improvements and revisions.
- Provide appropriate recommendations for change and re-drafting.
- Take a pragmatic, rather than a prescriptive approach in recommending changes.
You must ensure that the policy aligns with current business goals and working practices. If changes have been made or incidents have been reported, a review should include a risk assessment of the business areas affected. This is likely to include inspecting the work area, checking equipment and safety clothing (PPE), ensuring safe working procedures are in place and speaking to employees about their experience and perceptions of hazards. The findings of your assessment and any preventative measures you plan to implement should be recorded in the policy review.
When you have reviewed the health and safety policy, conducted a risk assessment (where necessary) and recorded the findings along with any new safety measures to be implemented, you must sign and date the updated policy. This is an important step that is often missed, but without it, a routine system of review is impossible and gaps in compliance are likely to appear.
Replace the existing policy with the new one, display it in the workplace and circulate the updated document to the entire workforce. It is advisable to bring the new policy to your staff’s attention in a meeting and follow up with an email update. This ensures that everybody is aware of any new arrangements and gives all workers the opportunity to provide feedback — the people working every day in a particular area of the business are more likely to spot gaps in provision rather than a manager who does not carry out a particular activity on a routine basis. It’s not enough to quietly update the policy and file it away.
As an employer, it is your legal responsibility to keep employees and other visitors to your workplace safe from harm. Health and safety legislation requires every business to have an up-to-date health and safety policy. Failing to do so could result in hefty fines or prosecution from the health and safety enforcing authorities. Conducting an annual review may feel like another task on your lengthy to-do list, requiring precious time and effort, but it could save you significant hassle and expense in the long-term as well as keeping your people (and the reputation of your business) safe.