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Ignoring simple health and safety procedures could prove costly for your pocket and reputation

Jo Eccles from the Forum's business advice team, explains the importance of ensuring you follow the basic key steps when it comes to Health and Safety management. 
Health and safety compliance continues to be a major cost for SMEs but has become all the more important with the introduction of Fees for Intervention (FFI) in October 2012, according to national business group, the Forum of Private Business.
 
Recent research by the Forum into the cost of compliance for small to medium-sized businesses showed that health and safety compliance costs are still in the top three alongside taxation and employment law, costing businesses a total of £3.7billion per year in administration and hiring external specialists.
 
Good health and safety practice is something expected from any responsible employer and failure to ensure you have the correct procedures can prove even more costly to a firm’s pocket and reputation. Last year according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) there were 78,222 workplace accidents.
 
Business owners ignore health and safety measures at their peril. Accidents happen, it’s a fact of life, but last year 706 companies were prosecuted for heath and safety breaches, which can result in costly fines. These costs have also increased considerably with the introduction of Fees for Intervention by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Many employers are still unaware of the introduction of FFI, but the fees for breaches can add up very quickly.
 
Fees for Intervention are an hourly cost penalty that the HSE can impose on employers when it carries out inspections related to health and safety breaches. FFI were introduced under the health and safety (Fees) Regulations 2012 to act as a cost recovery scheme and reduce the costs to taxpayers and means that the HSE is empowered to levy charges of £124 per hour on companies for carrying out site inspections and visits where there has been a ‘material’ breach of health and safety law. Charges can be levied even if there is no enforcement action taken and are payable by the defaulting company for the duration of the investigation, from the time HSE commences until the time HSE concludes its reporting, which on top of fines can prove extremely costly.

The HSE plays a vital role in ensuring safety in the workplace, but employers have seen a significant rise in associated charges and these are only likely to increase in future, making it all the more important for business owners to ensure that they have the correct health and safety procedures in place.
There is so much to think about when running a small business and health and hafety responsibilities are just another added burden, but following a few simple steps can avoid costly fines and fees in the future.
 
Key steps include:

A proactive assessment and management of health and safety risks
 
While you can’t eliminate every risk, as an employer good health and safety practice is essential, and you must undertake a risk assessment of any aspect of your business that could cause harm.
The types of risk will depend on type of your business you’re in but could include anything from slips, trips and falls to working with members of the public where there is a risk of violence. Your assessment should take into account your particular circumstances.

Most risks can be reduced and controlled by taking simple and inexpensive action. Under normal circumstances, the assessment should be documented, with action points detailed. This might include specific training, the introduction of personal protective equipment or implementing specific safe-working practices. Failure to undertake an assessment and control risks would normally be seen as a breach of health and safety legislation.

A written health and safety policy
If you employ five or more people, you must have a written health and safety policy statement, that way everyone understands their responsibilities. Your policy must set out your commitment to managing risks and meeting your obligations. You should involve your employees when preparing and implementing your health and safety policy.
The need for a written procedure should not be ignored. It may seem like a lot of hassle but, if an incident occurs and is investigated you will be asked to produce your written policy. In the case of a fatality at work failure to have this can be seen as a gross breach of duty of care and you could be guilty of an offence under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, which could result in imprisonment.

Getting expert advice and support
Getting advice on ensuring you have simple but effective health and safety practices may appear costly but in practice will pay for itself.
Making sure you have strong procedures in place will also improve your reputation among customers, regulators and employees. What’s more given the massive increase in penalties under health and safety legislation introduced last year, the cost of non-compliance is likely to exceed by a long way the cost of compliance.

The Forum also provides a comprehensive compliance support package including legal insurance and comprehensive employment law and health and safety guides backed by an expert advice line. For further information contact the Forum on 0845 130 1722 or visit www.fpb.org.
 

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