Making your workplace safe for your employees and any members of the public who can legitimately enter is an essential part of running any business. No matter how small or new your company may be, this is not something that can be ignored. Indeed, for a new business it’s important to integrate a health and safety-conscious ethos into your company culture right from the start.
It’s not enough to make a statement pledging to adhere to health and safety standards; actions need to be taken. They will require time, effort, careful consideration and, unavoidably, money. Again, if your business is just starting out or is undergoing a lean period, you may be tempted to cut corners when it comes to health and safety in order to reduce costs. As well as being arguably unethical – you are putting your employees and possibly your customers at risk in order to save a few pounds – that is the very definition of a false economy.
Accidents Cost More
Whatever it costs to make your business safe, the cost of not doing so will be greater. If an employee is ill or injured and is unable to work, you will still have to pay them while they are on sick leave, but due to their absence your business will see a drop in productivity. In addition, you may need to pay overtime to other employees who are covering for them.
If the injured employee is unable to return to work at all then you will have to advertise for a replacement, take the time to conduct interviews and train the new individual. A poor safety record can also affect your brand’s reputation and result in you losing business. In addition, your product or services may be of worse quality as a consequence of losing skilled employees.
Also, the trauma of a serious workplace accident and an awareness of the risks they are taking can negatively affect employee morale, especially if it seems as though their employer doesn’t care enough to take steps to ensure such accidents never happen. Repairs and investigations will cost you time and money, and you may also need to retrain employees in workplace health and safety, perhaps sending some on an external course. It’s surely far better to avoid the risk of accidents or illness as far as possible in the first place.
Ensuring Workplace Safety
The first thing you need to do, once you have accepted the need for stringent and structured health and safety at work, is to conduct a thorough risk assessment. This will involve touring the premises and making a note of every possible risk and hazard. Ask employees their opinion and take those into account. Once you have a written log of the risks, do what you can to remove or minimise them. In most cases some risks will be unavoidable, but they can be reduced in two ways. One is by making them less likely to happen, and the second is to minimise the damage that will be incurred if they do occur.
Examples of risk management include fitting all windows with safety glass so they are less likely to shatter, thereby being less dangerous to those nearby if they are broken. Fire safety is also paramount, and that means having working, regularly tested smoke detectors and fire alarms at appropriate points, as well as effective emergency lighting and regulation standard fire doors. All exits should be accessible and unobstructed, and your workplace should be equipped with a range of suitable extinguishers that are serviced annually.
Employee fire training should be undertaken, and the workforce should include at least one fire marshal. You should also ensure that at least one employee has basic first aid training. A first aid kit should be kept fully stocked on the premises, and as well as standard medicines and items (plasters, bandages, gauze, etc.) it should include items relevant to the risks of your workplace.
Looking after Your Employees
All of your employees should be issued with the appropriate equipment and protective clothing to carry out the job they are required to do. It should fit them correctly and be in good working order. Examples include protective gloves and boots, hard hats and goggles. They should also have the relevant training to carry out their tasks, including knowing best practice for using ladders, heavy lifting and so on.
A clear procedure needs to be in place for reporting any accidents and for dealing with them quickly and effectively. You must keep an accident log that details exactly what happened and what was done about it, being signed and dated each time. This could be crucial if anyone makes a compensation claim regarding an accident occurring on your premises or while working for your company.
A Culture of Safety
It is a legal requirement that any company with one or more employees take out employer’s liability insurance. This is to make sure that if you are sued over an accident you can pay appropriate compensation. The more you can ensure that your workplace is safe and free of hazards, the lower your premiums. Depending on the nature and size of your business it may be wise to take out other forms of insurance as well.
Finally, it is important to encourage a culture of safety and mutual trust in your business as well. All employees should put safety first and feel that they can trust their colleagues not to put them at any unnecessary risk. That includes having a zero tolerance approach to being intoxicated or using drink or drugs in the workplace. Employees should also feel confident that they can report unsafe situations or practices to management and that they will be taken seriously and their reports will be acted upon.
Workplace safety cannot be achieved without spending money, but it will cost you more if this is not attended to, and the ultimate cost could be more than just financial. Don’t gamble with the safety of your employees, or one way or another you are sure to end up losing money, respect and in extreme cases, even your freedom.