Five steps to H&S compliance for small businesses.

Health and safety at work. Welding

Small business owners work hard. Making sure that your business stays profitable isn’t an easy task and often things like health and safety get put on the “back burner”. That’s understandable, particularly if you run a low risk business and haven’t had any serious safety issues in the past.

Complying with health and safety laws can seem like a crippling time commitment, but it doesn’t have to. Follow these 5 steps to get your small business up to speed and comply with H&S laws.

Step 1. Talk to your people.

Talking health and safety

Often businesses get bogged down with compliance issues; focussing hard on documentation and creating a mountain of paperwork. Usually, that is all very counterproductive and that effort would probably have been far better invested in talking to people!

Any workplace, regardless of whether it’s a mine site or a retail shop, should have an open attitude to talking about safety issues. A risk is a lot more likely to be identified by the people who take that risk on a daily basis than a health and safety manager doing a walk-through or an inspection.  Nobody wants to get hurt, get sick or die, so everyone will have ideas about how to manage risks better. The people in a workplace should be seen as the biggest resource for safety guidance and risk reduction ideas. That way, risks will be more accurately identified and the solutions are probably going to be more suitable for the people that actually work with them.

Step 2. Assess the risks.

Assessing risk in the workplaceYou and your staff will already have a fairly good idea of what risks you deal with at work, so assessing them isn’t difficult. For any hazard in the workplace, you should ask the question: How can this hazard cause harm? Unless this is a completely new hazard, you will already be doing something to reduce the risks it causes. So, do some brainstorming to work out exactly how you are currently controlling the risks that you identify. These risk controls will include things like guarding on machines, signage, training and safety procedures, many of which you’ll be using without even really considering them as risk controls. After that you’ll need to establish the severity of harm that could be caused, and think about how likely that is to happen. The combination of the severity of consequences and the likelihood of that happening will give you an idea of the level of risk. It’s perfectly OK to classify your workplace risks into three categories: low, medium and high. It doesn’t need to be any more detailed than that!

This process will help you to identify your higher-risk activities and it may be that you or your staff can think of additional ways to make those activities safer. Also, once you’ve assessed the risks you should let everyone know about them. For small businesses under 5 employees, you legally don’t have to write anything down. But, practically speaking it makes a lot of sense to record these risks in a register. That way you can easily communicate your workplace risks to other businesses and potential clients, you’ll have a valuable training tool for new staff in the future and you’ll easily be able to see what kinds of risk treatments you rely on to keep your workplace safe and healthy.

Step 3. Plan for emergencies.

Earthquake damage in ChristchurchPlanning for emergencies might include ensuring that trained first aiders are available on all shifts, that the site has smoke and fire alarms, fire extinguishers and evacuation plans. Or procedures for earthquakes, angry customers, robbery, vehicle accidents, chemical spills and so on. These emergency plans should be well understood by everybody and practiced to ensure they are effective.

Step 4. Learn from incidents.

Workplace accident. Fall.In an ideal world workplaces would be 100% safe and nobody would ever get sick or hurt, but in the real world, accidents happen. No matter how competent and well trained people are and how well risks are managed, sometimes things go wrong. That’s what first aid kits and emergency plans are for! Importantly, though, when things do go wrong there are always lessons to be learned. Finding the root cause of an accident as soon as possible after it happens is the best way to start working out how to stop that accident from happening again. Similarly, taking action from near miss incidents is a great way to prevent an accident before it even happens!

Step 5. Improve over time.

Continual improvement No system will be perfect right off the bat. That’s obvious. Getting started is usually the hardest part, but once you’ve started you can work on improving things over time. You should set measurable, achievable goals and work towards these. These goals can be laid out in a policy statement. Having a well thought out policy statement will provide the direction and intentions of your health and safety system and you should show accountability and commitment to it. You don’t need to do annual audits or management reviews, particularly if you’re just getting your H&S system off the ground. But you should have a clear set of targets to aim towards and make sure that your H&S systems as well as your businesses H&S performance improves over time.

Remember, investing efforts into actually improving the health and safety of a workplace is the best way to ensure your compliance with health and safety laws.  

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