It is good to go back to basics every once in a while. Designing a company health and safety policy is no exception, whether for managers newly in post, or as a check for organisations that growth, diversification and changes haven’t blown their careful plans off course. Jon Herbert advises.

What is a health and safety policy?

This is a document or collection of documents that set out your organisation’s commitment and approach to health and safety and the systems and procedures it will use to manage health and safety.

Why have a health and safety policy?

It’s the law. Employers have a duty under the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 to prepare, implement and revise as necessary a health and safety policy, whatever your business activities, industrial sector and company size. Creating a fit-for-purpose and compliant health and safety policy will protect both workers and the organisation.

Organisations with five or more employees must put their health and safety policy down in writing. Those with fewer employees can communicate their policies verbally. Most importantly, the details of a health and safety policy, and any amendments made over time, must be shared with employees.

An effective health and safety policy is more than a set of passive rules and procedures. It is the cornerstone of a company’s whole dynamic approach to occupational health and safety management, which identifies the risks present in the workplace and the actions taken to control them, states clearly who in the organisation must do what under carefully defined circumstances, plus how they are expected to do it.

As an evolving strategy that everyone in the organisation must, in part, feel that they own, a good policy should also allow for the unexpected and unknown; intentions as well as rules are important.

What should your health and safety policy cover?

Before drawing up a policy, consider your options for managing the key issues. These include the following.

  • Have you a competent person available within the organisation or will you be employing an external consultant to help manage health and safety? If the former, how will you recognise when extra help is needed? If the latter, what would you expect from your external consultant?

  • Undertake risk assessments on your business activities and for personnel such as homeworkers, young workers,disabled workers, lone workers, those working with display screen equipment, and new and expectant mothers.The results of the risk assessments should inform your policy.

  • Assess your first aid needs. How many first aiders and first aid boxes do you need? Who will be responsible for appointing and arranging training for the first aiders? Who will check the boxes regularly?

  • Make sure your employers’liability insurance is comprehensive and up to date.

  • How will you consult with employees on health and safety issues?

  • What information and training is needed for employees and how will this be provided?

  • What steps need to be taken to ensure and monitor a safe and healthy working environment?

  • How will fire safety be managed and who is your responsible person?

How to structure your health and safety policy

It is common practice to have three parts to the policy, as follows.

  1. Statement of Intent: this describes the organisation’s general approach, including an executive commitment to managing health and safety and specific aims. The most senior person in the company must sign this — often the CEO.

  2. Responsibilities for health and safety: this section should list the names, positions and roles of people within the business who hold specific health and safety responsibilities.

  3. Arrangements for health and safety: this section should detail practical arrangements designed to achieve the health and safety policy specific to your organisation, its industry, work activities and individual circumstances. This could include, for example, how risk assessments are carried out and how different employees are trained, as well as the well-thought out use of safety signs or equipment.

Click here for a template health and safety policy

Now you have a health and safety policy…

However well thought-out and well worded your policy, it cannot be effective unless it is understood by everyone in the organisation. The minimum that must be communicated to all employees is the Statement of Intent. The rest of the policy must be put somewhere accessible by all, and everyone in the organisation told of its whereabouts for future reference.

Put into place a procedure for periodically reviewing and revising the policy. This is commonly every six months. The review should indicate if any tweaks can be made to improve the system, ensuring a dynamic approach to the management of health and safety.

Need help with drafting or improving your policy?

Speak to a qualified Croner consultant on 0800 231 5199.

Last reviewed 8 July 2019