Health and safety risk assessment – the responsibility of every employer

Whether you’re in a managerial position in a multi-million pound business or your own small business with just a handful of staff, health and safety should be high on your agenda, and not just because of legal obligations.

That machine guard on the big bandsaw, which has been rattling for three months, might just be annoying right now, but what happens when it’s finally completely off? In the worst case, the person operating it at the time can lose their hand. On the other hand, your staff has medical attention and in addition, your company has adequate insurance, should that employee decide to take you to court, which they most likely will. The point of the matter is that the consequences of that original negligent act can be far-reaching. Your injured employee may not be able to continue with the same career path and may become unemployed as a result, while his wife and children go hungry every other day. Ironic in a way, because that machine guard could probably be secured with a screw or a bolt that costs only pennies.

Granted, the example above may not be the best, but it does serve to convey a certain message regarding workplace health and safety. Of course, in a perfect world, entrepreneurs and all businesses would put the well-being of their employees first, but unfortunately we don’t live in a perfect world, especially when you consider how “profit-driven” the business world really is.

This is precisely why previous governments have introduced health and safety legislation. If you run a business in the UK, employ five or more people or provide accommodation for paying guests, you are required by law to meet certain requirements. One of these requirements is to carry out a health and safety risk assessment on a regular basis. These assessments may be performed by the business owner, a designated employee or employees, or alternatively through a third party that specializes in this area.

While there are no real hard and fast rules as to the actual minimum requirements or standards, it is each employer’s responsibility to ensure that their ratings are at least worth something. Inspectors who may call to see your business can and will make recommendations if they feel more could have been done, but that’s really where it ends. Should you choose to ignore such advice and something does go wrong, the full responsibility lies with you, the business owner, and not an inspector.

And if a court rules that your company’s health and safety risk assessment was inadequate, your insurance company will shut the door in your face.

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To say the least, health and safety is a serious issue and should be treated as such. If your company is small enough to warrant your own assessments, or perhaps one of your employees to do them, at the very least make sure appropriate training is provided. If, on the other hand, you are running a slightly larger operation, it is certainly wise to consider handing over responsibility to a third party with extensive experience in such matters.