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Workplace health, safety and environmental rules

When you open premises, you become legally responsible for the health and safety of any employees, visitors, or people nearby as well as anyone affected by products and services you design, produce or supply. However, the requirements are fairly straightforward and providing you take a sensible approach, complying with the law is usually just a matter of applying commonsense.

Registering your business

Most new employers do not need to register their premises with either with the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) or their local authority. However, if your business works with dangerous substances, such as asbestos, or in a hazardous industry, you may require a licence in order to operate or be required to register with the Health and Safety Executive or your local authority.

If you’re uncertain about your legal obligations, visit the HSE website, which contains a wealth of information and advice.

Health and safety risk assessments

Whatever the nature of your premises, they must meet minimum health and safety standards – although best practice is advised. Begin by carrying out a risk assessment. Consider places, activities and substances which could cause people injury or sickness.

Identify hazards such as cables, loose floor tiles or spillages that could cause someone to slip, trip or fall. Also assess exposure to hazardous substances, excessive noise, moving vehicles and fire risks.

Record your findings and decide what action to take. Review your risk assessment at least every six months or when your business changes significantly. If you employ five or more people, your risk assessment must be written down.

Employees’ health and safety rights

You must safeguard your employees’ welfare, so find out about your obligations before you take on your first employee. By way of introduction, you must provide: clean toilets, hand basins, soap and a means to dry hands (mixed-gender facilities are allowed if they’re enclosed and lockable from the inside); fresh drinking water; sufficient space (11 cubic metres per person is recommended by the HSE) and good lighting and ventilation.

Working areas must be kept clean, which includes removing waste regularly. The layout of your premises must enable people to walk about safely, so make sure there aren’t any obstacles or cables that could cause someone to trip or fall. There are specific health and safety rules relating to IT.

The temperature within your premises should be at least 16ºC if employees largely remain stationary, while 13ºC is an acceptable minimum if employees move around while carrying out their duties.

You must provide employees with a rest area. Employees who wear special clothing or staff uniforms must have a changing area, too. If employees smoke, set aside an external area away from doors and windows so that others aren’t affected by smoke. Makes sure employees are aware of your smoking policy.

Taking responsibility for health and safety

Plan how your business will manage serious incidents. First aid kits should be kept accessible to all. You should also have an accident book and a system for reporting serious injuries, diseases and incidents to the relevant authorities.

Also make sure your policy accounts for the health, safety and welfare of people including staff, customers and suppliers with disabilities, pregnant women and children.

Make one or more person responsible for health and safety within your business. Provide health and safety training for all employees, taking into account particular risks they face and detail any specific health and safety responsibilities in their employment contracts.

Get health and safety posters or leaflets from the HSE and use signage where necessary. Communicate your policy to all employees and anyone else that could be affected by your business.

Your business and the environment

Your business can be held responsible for any environmental damage it causes and there are no ceilings on potential fines.

Waste must be suitably contained, treated properly and stored safely. You must ensure that whoever carries out your waste disposal is legally permitted to do so – and does the job properly. Makers, sellers and distributors of electrical and electronic equipment in the EU have to recycle their consumers’ waste electrical and electronic goods.

You must not cause a nuisance through noise, smoke, fumes, gases, dust, smells, light pollution or accumulations of rubbish that could harm someone’s health or annoy people living or working near to your business. Firms intending to create excessive trade effluent must seek permission from their water company. Emissions into the air also need to be checked by the local authority and Environment Agency.

Practical sustainability advice can be found on the WRAP website.

Further reading

Find more articles, videos and tools in the Resources box on the right.

Alternatively, find advice on health and safety on the Law Donut.