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Health & Safety Plans for Startups – How to write one for your business

September 16, 2016

It’s safe to say that writing a health & safety plan isn’t one of the most exciting parts of starting a business. In fact, it’s something that many new business owners neglect to do.

A health and safety plan is a plan which outlines how health and safety protocol will work in your business. In an ideal world, it would be seen as something that goes alongside a business plan but, far too often, this is not the case and businesses end up neglecting it.

Planning for health and safety means more than just checking the law as you go to make sure you are following it. Rather, a health and safety plan is something that should be done in the early stages of business planning.

Much like a business plan, it involves foreseeing all the possible risks that your business could face. However, the risk cost analysis of a health and safety plan versus a business plan differs in one key respect: the allowed level of risk in any health and safety plan is defined by law.

HSE’s exact words are that an employer’s legal responsibility is to;

“ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of yourself and others who may be affected by what you do or do not do.”

Reasonably practicable” is italicised by HSE for emphasis. This is because employers are not expected to protect their employees at all costs.

HSE states that employers “do not need to take action if it would be grossly disproportionate to the level of risk.”

The Proportionality of Safety: Don’t overestimate the risk, or overspend on the solution

The takeaway from this is that employers need to plan their business so that risk is reduced as much as is “reasonably practicable”.

If your workplace has stairs, make sure they are well-lit, grippy, and clear of obstacles. Don’t ban the use of your stairs completely. Though this would ensure a zero percent rate of stairway accidents, the cost would be “grossly disproportionate to the level of risk”.

Acting proportionately to the level of risk means that if your workplace is not radically dangerous then you don’t need to take radical action.

To go back to the stairs example, installing an elevator might help to solve the stairs issue altogether. However, the risk of falling down a safe stairway is low and the money spent on an elevator might best be spent elsewhere.

Much of this is common sense, but the point of a health and safety plan is to build this common sense into your business from the ground up, rather than adding it after the fact.

Eliminate, Isolate, and Minimise Danger

The New Zealand government has a great mantra for writing a business plan: eliminate, isolate, and minimise.

Eliminate

If you can remove a dangerous substance or practice from your business model, then remove it. Do you use a cheap toxic substance for cleaning? Could it be replaced with a non-toxic alternative?

Isolate

If an essential, unchangeable, and legal part of your business model is potentially unsafe, then isolate it.

Operating a forklift, for example, can be dangerous. Though it is essential for storing and retrieving heavy objects, its use should be isolated to certain contexts.

Only use one in a warehouse, only use one when you need to, and only allow licensed and healthy people to drive it.

Minimise

Similar to isolating, minimising means reducing the use or presence of something dangerous as much as possible if it cannot be isolated or eliminated.

When welding, a worker cannot isolate or eliminate sparks — no matter how safely they weld — and so a welding mask is essential to minimising the risk created by the sparks.

Making a health and safety plan means making an exhaustive list of every possible risk involved in your business and seeing if it can be first eliminated, then reduced, and then isolated.

The biggest mistake a business can make is to assume that there are some risks for which nothing can be done. This might be true in nature, but your workplace is an environment which you have constructed.

There is no risk which cannot be handled in some way or another, even if it means simply making your employees aware of that risk.

Writing a safety plan for your business

Once you have identified all the potential hazards in your workplace and all the ways that you can eliminate, isolate, or minimise them (as far as is “reasonably practical” that is), you need to put all this into writing.

HSE recommend recording your safety plan using this template which you can download from their website. The template consists of a table with three columns: the statement of general policy, the responsibility section, and the arrangements section.

In laymen’s terms, the statement of general policy identifies a risk and states that this risk will be tackled in some way. The responsibility section then identifies who will be responsible for tackling this risk. And the arrangements section identifies how the responsible person will tackle the risk.

Safety inspections, training & third party safety services

How long it takes to identify and write about every potential risk in your business depends on the size of your business and/or the scale of your operation. In some cases, you might need a third party or an expert inspection to help identify a risk in order for you to write it into your safety policy. In fact, depending on your business model, there are some third safety services which you might be legally required to use.

However, be sure to check. Some third party safety providers may act as if their services are something you need to have by law when, in reality, this is not the case. HSE are pretty clear about this sort of thing.

If HSE doesn’t recognise a particular body, or recommend them by name, then you are not legally obliged to use them. Always go to HSE first for information and always stay updated with changes to HSE law. Only when they have mentioned a service, a type of inspection, or a type of training from a third party by name should you then research that service.

It might also be the case that these third party groups provide services, training, and inspections above and beyond what the law requires. In this instance, it is for you to decide whether or not these additional services would be beneficial.

Having a solid health and safety plan means that you can avoid being ripped off by businesses who claim they are acting in your best interest but who are really just after your money.

The new CDM regulations mean that, whatever the case may be, the burden of responsibility is ultimately on the employer to decide what training and inspections would and would not be beneficial to their business.

HSE are there to recommend service providers, and those service providers will provide you with yet more advice and training. Yet if something goes wrong that you could have prevented, then it is neither HSE nor the service provider’s fault.

This is only bad news for employers who do not research or plan health and safety protocol in their business. Being a startup means being on the cutting edge of all things business, but this should also include safety.

HSE are there to help you stay within the law but, ultimately, no-one knows your business better than you. If you are educated enough on all the HSE protocols relevant to your business, then you can shape your business in a way which suits you best. Planning for health and safety means making workplace safety regulation an asset and not a burden.

About the author

Justin O’Sullivan is a safety writer and the owner of Storage Equipment Experts. As a SEMA approved racking inspector based in the UK, Justin provides racking inspections and racking inspection training across the country.

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