Getting health and safety right for your business

3 min read | Published 13/06/2024

By law, you have a duty to protect the health and safety of your team. But it’s not just about your legal obligations. Here’s what you need to know.

Share this guide
Heath and safety basics
One of the best ways to protect your employees is to carry out a risk assessment.

Health and safety for small businesses involves protecting the health, safety, and well-being of your employees. In addition, it also protects you as the business owner, by making sure you adhere to current workplace health and safety laws. Looking after your workforce is not just a legal duty, though. It’s also an important building block of success for all businesses that employ staff.

Our expert panel reviews all content. Learn more about our editorial standards and how we operate

What health and safety laws affect small businesses?

In the UK, there are several laws covering health and safety in the workplace. The two main acts are: 

It's important you're familiar with both. Companies, or their leaders, can be convicted under the second act should someone die due to the company’s actions. 

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is the national regulator for work-related health and safety issues. It's a useful source of information and advice for business owners.

Compare business insurance

What is a health and safety policy?

A health and safety policy is a written document that covers:

  • Your company’s commitment to protecting the health and safety of its employees 

  • A list of the people responsible for managing different health and safety duties and areas

  • An explanation of the measures being used to manage any risks 

  • Details of who is covered by the policy, such as employees, contractors and visitors

The document’s aim is to explain to your employees, and anyone else it applies to, how you manage and prevent risks in the workplace. It should also detail how you comply with health and safety laws.

Once you have a health and safety policy, it’s important to ensure your employees are aware of it and understand how to put it into practice. 

Does my business need a health and safety policy?

Health and safety laws apply to all businesses. Current rules say you only need to have a written health and safety policy if you employ 5 or more people. However, there's no reason not to have a policy if you employ fewer than that. After all, looking after the well-being and safety of your workforce can increase overall health and happiness, which is great for building success.

How can I protect my business from risks?

One of the best ways to protect your employees is to carry out a risk assessment. Doing this allows you to identify any risks or hazards that could potentially result in injury or illness.

Common risks to bear in mind include:

  • Electrical safety – electricity can cause severe or even fatal injuries, so it’s important to follow proper safety procedures when working with electrical equipment

  • Manual handling – from repetitive strain injuries to back problems caused by heavy lifting, manual handling accounts for more than a third of workplace accidents

  • Fire safety – fires can be devastating to small businesses, but most can be prevented by following the correct procedures

  • Working at height – the risks associated with working at height can be managed with protective clothing and regular equipment inspections

  • Falls – these often happen due to wet floors or when cables have been left out, but suitable warnings can reduce the risk of such hazards

A comprehensive risk assessment should set out the measures you’re taking or intend to take to offset the risks to everyone working in your business. 

How does health and safety affect my business insurance?

Regardless of your health and safety policy, as an employer, you are legally required to buy employers’ liability insurance. This type of business insurance is designed to pay out if an employee is injured, becomes unwell or dies as a result of working for your company.

The government website states: “You must get employers’ liability insurance as soon as you become an employer - your policy must cover you for at least £5 million and come from an authorised insurer.”

If you have any contact with members of the public, including clients and suppliers, it’s probably a good idea to buy public liability insurance too.

Finally, if you offer advice or provide services that could be found negligent, you may want to compare professional indemnity insurance. It might even be a requirement to work with certain companies.

You can find out more about these different types of business insurance by checking out our series of guides:

Who am I responsible for as an employer?

As a business owner, you are responsible for the health and safety of everyone within your employment: 

  • Under civil law, this means you have a general duty of care towards your employees and the people they deal with, such as customers and suppliers.

Under criminal law, you are required to take ‘reasonably practicable’ measures to protect your employees and those affected by their activities against injury or illness. If you don’t and something goes wrong, you could face a criminal prosecution, be fined or even go to prison.

About Alex Ryde

Alex joined in 2019, bringing his expertise to a range of roles working in both the Analytics and Commercial teams. More recently he has stepped across to focus on Product, where he’s been focusing on scaling up the teams’ SME offering.

View Alex Ryde's full biography here or visit the press room for our latest news.