What is a Health and Safety Policy?

what is health and safety policy

A health and safety policy outlines how an employer will comply with legislation and prevent their business operations from causing harm. But, good policy writing needs in-depth knowledge of an organisation and an understanding of health and safety best practices.

This guide offers an overview of health and safety policies, including what they should include and who’s responsible for writing them. It should give small business owners a good idea of what they must do to comply with legislation and protect the health and safety of employees, customers and anyone else who might be harmed.

Are Health and Safety Policies a Legal Requirement?

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act etc 1974 (HSWA), every employer is legally responsible for creating a safe working environment and protecting staff from harm. No workplace is without risk and it would be impossible to comply with the HSWA without a health and safety policy. It outlines exactly what you’ll do as an employer to create a safe working environment, so every organisation needs one.

The law is slightly different for small business owners, however. You don’t need a written policy if you employ fewer than five people. But don’t let this concession fool you into thinking you don’t need a policy at all. Regardless of business size, all employers must still operate under the HSWA and protect staff. Without a policy, people are more likely to get hurt.

And any workplace accident could trigger an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which enforces the HSWA. Failing to provide a credible health and safety policy will seriously harm your credibility and increase your chances of prosecution.

Is the Employer Always Responsible for the Health and Safety Policy?

Overall accountability for workplace health and safety always stays with the employer. But it would be unrealistic (and unsafe) for one person to manage health and safety for an entire organisation, even small ones. To get around this, employers can pass on select duties to others.

Take health and safety in schools, for example. The employer is still accountable for health and safety, but since that employer is often the local authority, they won’t be able to manage day-to-day health and safety on school property. So, they pass on duties to the headteacher, who can delegate to specialists when needed.

One of the duties that can be passed on is writing the health and safety policy. Appointing someone else is often a good idea. Effective health and safety requires specific knowledge and experience, which employers outside the profession typically lack.

Alternatively, you can invest in training for yourself or your staff. You don’t need a license or qualification to undertake most health and safety tasks. Instead, you need to prove you’re competent. Competence combines sufficient knowledge, experience and training to do the job safely. So, suitable courses can give you or the teams the competence to undertake health and safety procedures internally.

Health and Safety Courses

Our Health and Safety Courses give trainees a thorough understanding of the key aspects of safety and health that individuals may encounter and the legal, moral and operational health and safety responsibilities that anyone needs to know to work safely in a work environment.

What Should a Health and Safety Policy Cover?

Policies follow an established structure, no matter the organisation’s size or sector. Each one includes three sections, which are summarised below.

You can also find a health and safety policy example on HSE’s site. But keep in mind your policy needs to be specific to your workplace. This need for specificity is another reason to keep policy writing in-house. You already have detailed knowledge of your work and work environment, including the risks and hazards to consider when writing your policy.

1. Statement of Intent

Your statement of intent outlines your organisation’s aims and objectives regarding health and safety. Aims and objectives are two distinct categories.

Aims are generally broad, static and unquantifiable. They should summarise your commitment to workplace health and safety and compliance with relevant legislation.

Objectives are more specific and measurable and should detail how you’ll support your overall aim. For example, maintaining work equipment in good working order and providing staff with the necessary training to do their jobs safely.

Equipment maintenance and staff training are two examples that will feature in almost every policy (they are statutory requirements, after all). But other objectives should be customised to your organisation and the nature of the work undertaken.

The statement should be signed by the employer or other figure with ultimate accountability for health and safety.

2. Responsibilities for Health and Safety

Successful health and safety management depends on more than one person. This section lists the personnel who will help you achieve your policy aims and their responsibilities.

Start at the top:-

  1. The individual with final responsibility for health and safety (typically the employer) should come first.
  2. Then come the managers and supervisors tasked with routine implementation of the policy.
  3. Next, list the people with specific duties, such as completing risk assessments, managing equipment maintenance or organising training. This subsection should include any consultants or others you may have delegated responsibilities to outside your organisation.
  4. Finally, outline your employees’ responsibilities. These won’t be defined tasks but reminders of their obligations to follow your policy and act in a way that promotes health and safety.

3. Arrangements for Health and Safety

This section details the practical arrangements you have in place to ensure health and safety in your workplace.

Similar to policy aims, arrangements must suit your workplace and the activities that happen there, but expect some overlap with other policies. Outside of health and safety constants (risk assessments and staff training, for example), there’s no definitive list of what to include here. So consider your workplace and the arrangements you need to make it safer and compliant.

What Happens After the Policy is Written?

Your policy should be a living document, referred to and reviewed regularly.

health and safety policy example

Health and safety legislation is focused on preventing accidents, which requires an ongoing effort from employers and duty-holders. If your policy isn’t making anyone safer, something’s gone wrong. Either your objectives and arrangements aren’t sufficient, or your employees aren’t following your guidance.

To make sure your policy is effective, follow these steps.

Plan, Do, Check Act

An established concept in health and safety – the plan, do, check, act cycle lends itself to effective policy management.

  • Plan policy details and arrangements
  • Implement them
  • Check they’re working by monitoring accident rates etc,
  • Act on any areas of underperformance

Share it with Staff

Actively communicate your policy to staff and explain its importance. Ensure every team member can access the policy and keep copies on hand.

Regular Reviews

Your policy should be regularly reviewed. What’s regular is up to you to decide, but the HSE recommends an annual review at minimum. You should also review your policy if:

  • You make significant changes to your workplace or operations
  • Someone is harmed, or an accident happens
  • Health and safety legislation is updated
  • New staff join the organisation
  • Workers raise a concern or flag a safety issue

Where Can You Find Health and Safety Training?

Your health and safety policy will inevitably reference training. Workers need instruction on how to do their jobs safely. Training is always required to develop the necessary competence to tackle in-house health and safety procedures.

Our online health and safety courses train staff for a safer workplace and develop the skills to take on risk assessments, incident investigations, and other tasks necessary for successful health and safety management. Every course is self-paced and entirely online, letting you learn when you want.

About the author(s)

Authors Photo
Jonathan Goby
Share with others
You might also like