Health and safety basics in your small business

May 30, 2016 | Good Management

Even the smallest employer has responsibilities and obligations with regards to health and safety and you need to understand what these are. Here’s our simple guide to the basics to get you started:

Who is responsible?

Appoint someone to take responsibility for health and safety. Doesn’t need to be someone with expert knowledge or experience if your business is small and fairly low risk. So as the business owner you could appoint yourself or one of your staff to take this role.

Write a policy

If you have at least five employees you need to write a health and safety policy. This doesn’t necessarily need to be very detailed and the Health and Safety Executive has templates and guidance on what to include.

Assess and control risk

You need to assess what risks there are to health and safety in your business, and put measures in place to control and reduce these. This involves completing risk assessments, looking at what risks there are, thinking about what measures you might already be taking to reduce these, and considering what else you need to do to protect the health and safety of your employees and anyone visiting your premises. A common sense, reasonable approach is fine, and if you have fewer than five employees, you don’t need to write your findings down (although it would be sensible to do so).


You have to consult your employees on health and safety. In a small business this doesn’t need to be onerous or over-formal. It means talking to them about health and safety, getting their input and understanding their concerns. This makes sense anyway, as the people most valuable in understanding the risks involved in the various aspects of the work your business does are the people doing the work.

Information and training

You need to make sure your employees have instructions and information about managing health and safety at work, including training if appropriate. People working for you need to know what the risks are, be fully informed about what measures are in place to reduce and control these and understand what their role is and what steps they need to take.


There are a number of facilities you must provide in the workplace, including toilets and hand washing facilities, access to water suitable for drinking, storage for clothes and changing facilities if these are appropriate and somewhere to rest and eat.

The working environment

Your employees’ workplace must be well ventilated, a reasonable temperature, well-lit, not too cramped and clean. Equipment and premises need to be looked after and maintained properly, there must not be obstructions, windows need to be able to be opened and any glass doors or walls are safe and protected.

Employment protection

As well as taking these measures around health and safety in your business, you need to be aware of some rights your staff have in respect of health and safety as it relates to their employment, as follows:

  • The right not to be subject to any detriment for health and safety reasons
  • The right not to be dismissed or made redundant for reasons related to health and safety (with the ability to claim unfair dismissal from day one of their employment if this happens)
  • The right to be paid if they are suspended from work or if the workplace is closed down for health and safety reasons.
  • Protection under whistleblowing legislation if they make a disclosure in the public interest which may include health and safety.

There is often a perception that health and safety regulations are over-prescriptive, but actually the basics as outlined above are not, and it’s perfectly ok to take a reasonable and common sense approach in a small organisation where activities are low-risk.
There are a number of specific regulations that apply in higher risk workplaces so if this might apply to you, you will need to seek advice as to what these are. The Health and Safety Executive has plenty of guidance including industry-specific information to help you.
If you want some advice on health and safety responsibilities and obligations in your small business, do get in touch.