Health and Safety Policy For Your Organisation
What is a Health and Safety Policy?
A health and safety policy is a statement which sets out the details as to how your organisation will manage health and safety, as well as the arrangements that are in place in order to put your health and safety policy into practice, to ensure that what you have set out is actually happening in practice. It is a document which says who needs to do what and when in terms of the management of health and safety, as well as briefly detailing why they are doing it.
Who Needs To Have a Health and Safety Policy?
All organisations need a health and safety policy in order to manage risks effectively, but any organisation which has more than five employees will need to have a written health and safety policy, which is accessible for all staff to read at any time. It will set out who in your organisation is doing which tasks, such as fire sweeping after an evacuation.
New employees to the business should be given a copy and made to read the firm's health and safety policy. Usually, a written health and safety policy is displayed on a wall somewhere, as well as being on the company's computer server which can be accessed by employees.
The Importance of a Good Health and Safety Policy
Along with effective health and safety training, having a health and safety policy in place should help to reduce accidents in the workplace, which will not only reduce staff absenteeism, but will also lead to a less likely chance of potential costly litigation. The construction of a health and safety policy should be done in conjunction with a comprehensive risk assessment (or multiple risk assessments for each department if your organisation is particularly large), and forms part of your overall risk management process.
A company's health and safety policy is not only a legal requirement, but is also an extremely useful document. It details a lot of useful information regarding all manner of health and safety issues including the aims of the company with regards to safety and well-being, how it will achieve them, who is responsible for doing what and many other components besides. It is therefore extremely important and should be read by all employees so that they have a through understanding of its contents and what it is aiming to accomplish.
For this to be achieved, the health and safety policy should be available and easily accessible to all employees. Even better, distributing it to them either in print or in electronic format will ensure that they at least have a copy of it in their possession rather than relying upon them actively searching and finding it wherever it happens to be located.
How Complicated Does a Health and Safety Policy Have To Be, and What Does It Contain?
This will obviously depend on the size and complexity of your organisation and its operations, as well as the specific risks and workplace hazards employees will face. It does not need to be overly-complicated. In fact, the simpler it is the easier (and more likely!) it is to be read. A typical health and safety policy is likely to cover issues such as:
- Who is responsible for what with regard to health and safety within the organisation
- A brief description of relevant health and safety legislation, and how the company complies with it
- Emergency procedures such as evacuation routes, fire doors, assembly points etc.
- Hazardous substances and chemicals (COSHH) that may be encountered by workers and other visitors (as well as customers), including performing a COSHH risk assessment
- Accident investigation, accident reporting, first aid, RIDDOR
- Monitoring of health and safety in the workplace
- How, when and who reviews the health and safety policy. Ideally, the policy will be reviewed regularly, at least once a year, and any changes communicated to staff so that they are made aware of the revised health and safety policy.
Health and Safety Starts at the Top with Managers
Having a comprehensive health and safety culture within a business begins with the company's management as they are the ones who provide the direction of the business and set the standard to which employees follow. If they are not seen to take health and safety in the workplace seriously, or even deliberately tell employees to ignore certain things if time and money is scarce, then workers will face a much higher likelihood of suffering an injury or death which may or may not be of the own creation.
Often managers will be tempted to by-pass the health and safety policy and controls if there is a particular need to get work finished by a certain deadline or money is a bit tight. The business decision can therefore sometimes be at odds with the health and safety policy and rules which should be followed at all times. For example, materials which are purchased for use in the manufacturing process of a finished item may be required by law to be fire resistant. However, they are much more expensive than cheaper, more flammable material. If trading conditions are difficult, and as a result there is a lack of available money to spend, the business decision will be at odds not only with the health and safety policy and guidelines that would be followed by the management in an ideal world, but not following it also goes against legal requirements.
It is imperative that whenever a scenario like this comes about then management always stick to the health and safety policy, no matter how tempting it is to cut corners, even if it is "just the once because of exceptional circumstances". Circumventing the health and safety policy or not fulfilling set legal requirements will significantly increase the potential for a person to suffer illness, injury or death as a consequence of the workplace activities.
Health and Safety Can Be Positive Too
Following a health and safety policy is certainly not all about placing restrictions upon a business as to what can and cannot be done. The policy is also used as a guide for positive actions which aim to increase productivity, preserve the environment, enhance company image and result in cost efficiency amongst many other benefits.
Health and safety policies and even legislation are not intended to suppress profit and make trading tough for businesses. Although some requirements may be onerous, cause work to take slightly longer and end up costing more money, there are many benefits that a safe workplace brings which nearly always far outweigh any negatives and costs associated with it.
External Influences on a Health and Safety Policy Review
Health and Safety Policies Frequently Change
A health and safety policy is an essential document which is constantly and frequently changing. Workplaces are dynamic environments which are continuously adapting to changes including:
- Number of people employed
- Substances and materials used
- New types of equipment and advances in technology
- The layout of the shop floor and other buildings on site
- Health and safety legislative requirements
- A significant increase in production levels due to increased demand
There is therefore a need to continually review the health and safety policy to ensure that it is still relevant, that it is still fit for purpose, and that it does not contain information which is so out-of-date that it would actually put people at risk because of the changes that have taken place on site since it was written or last revised.
External Influences on a Health and Safety Policy
Along with the management of a business continually reviewing the health and safety policy and making alterations when necessary, there will also be external influences on the company which will have a bearing upon the contents of the health and safety policy aside from the introduction of new - and amendments to existing - health and safety legislation.
One such influence can come from insurance companies. Any litigation claims which come about as a result of inadequate health and safety in the workplace may end up costing the insurance provider a great deal of money. As such, they will want to minimise this possibility as much as they possibly can by advising or insisting upon improvements.
Another external influence is manufacturers of products and equipment. They will understand their goods better then anyone, and so will also know the dangers that they can pose if used, handled or stored incorrectly. Therefore their advice and guidance is well worth listening to.
Sometimes those who are close to the business can become so immersed in it that they fail to see certain issues which can be spotted by a fresh pair of eyes which are external to the company. One such group is customers for those businesses which have members of the public visiting the site on a regular basis. They will often bring issues to management's attention, hopefully before anybody suffers an accident, which may not have been noticed or considered by management as hazardous. Many potential hazards that may be thought of as simple common sense to avoid may still need addressing in order to conform with health and safety legislation.
A company may choose to engage a health and safety consultancy company to perform a review or audit of its health and safety procedures and working practices. Their recommendations will prove to be highly effective when it comes to increasing the overall levels of safety within the business, which will often include making alterations and amendments to the health and safety policy.
Why a Health and Safety Policy is Likely to Soon Need Changes
The creation of a health and safety policy is not only a legal requirement in many countries around the world, but also defines the intent of the company in terms of the creation and maintenance of a safe place of work. As well as keeping employees safe within the premises, this also applies to preventing harm coming to the surrounding environment such as air or water pollution, as well as not causing ill-health or injury to anybody living or working in the nearby surroundings.
The health and safety policy will contain vital information such as the main risks that are present, the safeguards and safety features in place, the responsibilities of different groups and individuals, intended targets and objectives regarding health and safety, plus much more. It is therefore a crucial document which plays a key role in the creation of a safe place of work, and one which also does not cause harm to its neighbours and local environment.
An Ever-Changing Workplace will Require Constant Changes to the Policy
Whilst it is therefore so important for the policy to be both comprehensive and accurate when it is created, it will inevitably soon become out of date. This is because the workplace and the processes within it are constantly changing over time. Whether it is a change in the shop floor layout, the substitution of a hazardous substance used in the manufacturing process for a different one, an increase in the number of employees, amendments to health and safety legislation etc... the health and safety policy will soon have sections relating to the old way of working which are no longer applicable. Not only can they no longer be relevant, but they may in fact create additional danger, such as advising people to assemble in an area which is no longer safe in the event of an emergency due to changes to the layout, or stating that certain individuals may be responsible for actions such as fire sweeping, when in fact those people have left the business some time ago.
The Need for Health and Safety Training with the Safety Policy Document
whilst this is a vital document, the distribution of the health and safety policy is not enough on its own. Managers cannot simply dish it out and sit back thinking that their job is done. To have the desired effect in terms of keeping people and the environment safe from coming to harm as a result of the activities associated with the workplace, simply having a quick read through (if indeed a person even gives it that much attention!) will not be sufficient without health and safety training courses to provide the relevant knowledge to go with the policy document, and provide the opportunity for questions to be asked and clarification given on points contained in the health and safety policy which might be causing confusion and misunderstanding. Not fully understanding certain issues, processes or procedures is one of the biggest reasons behind accidents and incidents occurring which can cause people to be killed, injured, or made ill as a consequence.
Whilst the policy will outline and describe who is responsible for what role in, say, the event of an emergency such as a fire in the premises, bespoke health and safety courses will be able to explain in detail not only what these individuals should be doing themselves to fulfil these tasks, but will also provide this information to everyone else, as it is important that they too know what action and steps are going to be taken in the event of an emergency situation breaking out the workplace.
The need for refresher health and safety training is well-established, with refresher courses in place for the SMSTS and SSSTS construction safety courses as an example, where knowledge has to be refreshed to ensure that individuals have not forgotten what they were previously taught.
The same is also true for the information learned from the health and safety policy document. Not only can this be forgotten as time progresses, but as the workplace is a constantly expanding or changing environment it will often be necessary for the health and safety policy to be amended and modified, not to mention any bespoke health and safety training where the content is the same each time and has been for a while. Therefore, companies need to ensure that not only is the health and safety policy itself kept up to date, but also that the safety training which accompanies it is updated to take into account any modifications to the policy.
A health and safety policy will consequently require regular revision and amendments to ensure that the information contained in it is current and accurate. In addition to this, current versions will also need to be communicated properly to employees so that they are aware of the revisions to the document. Having the most thorough and up-to-the-minute health and safety policy will be of little use if nobody is aware of its contents.