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Everything you need to know about SME health & safety compliance


Every company should have a Health and Safety policy in place to protect their employees, customers and even members of the public, but just as importantly – their business!

In the UK, if you are self-employed or employ four or less employees this does not have to be written down. You do, however, have to take reasonable measures to ensure the health and safety of yourself, the public and any employees.

If you employ five or more staff members, you must have an accessible, recorded system in place which is accessible to both your staff and any investigators/auditors.

This should be simple, but because the guidance refers to every type of business it is vague by design and allows for different ways to manage the many different risks that the UK-based workforce are confronted with each day.

No matter where you are or what the law in your country says you need, we believe that all businesses should have an effective and thorough Health and Safety policy in place if they want to futureproof their organisation.

Looking at what’s required to implement an effective Health and Safety Policy may make you feel overwhelmed and confused.

So that’s where we come in, ready to lend a helping hand to businesses of all sizes who need to set up a Health and Safety policy/system, or for people concerned they may not have sufficiently covered off all the necessary requirements.


Regardless of whether you are someone working alone or as part of a team, competency training is a must.

Having properly trained staff is the best way to ensure you are running your operations both efficiently and safely.


Competency Training is training delivered to your staff that’s directly linked to their role or a work task they complete. To give some context, an example could be a Working at Heights course for a Telephone Line Engineer, or perhaps an Asbestos Awareness Course for a Builder.

However, a common mistake people make is assuming they don’t need to put a policy in place because they’re not operating in a ‘physical sector’. For example:

Desk workers should complete a DSE (Display Screen Equipment) course to ensure they are working correctly.

Your office cleaners may “just be doing what they do at home”, but if they’re completing their tasks without appropriate COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) training or if method statements haven’t been put in place, you could be looking at a very expensive and embarrassing court case.

Essentially, consider every possible risk related to tasks carried out by your staff, no matter how small or insignificant it seems. If it can be tackled with training – get it booked!


For specific qualifications that are required to practice, obviously there is no corner cutting to be done.

However, if you want to train your office staff on a range of topics from Equality and Diversity to Data Protection, you can do so by booking them on e-learning courses.

The beauty of e-learning is your staff will experience minimal disruption to their working day. As they can often complete their training at their own desks it means there is no travel time wasted as they can hop straight back into what they were working on before.

E-Learning more than you want to pay?

If you are trained and qualified on the topics you need staff training for, you can provide on-the-job training for all your staff yourself, as long as you audit completions and arrange refreshers as and when required.

You can offer on-the-job training for all sorts of tasks, whether that’s mopping the floor or changing the water bottle on the water cooler.

Just make sure you have checked out the latest advice on any risk types that are involved in the task to ensure your methods are above board and safe.


The simple way!

Create a document which has columns for:

  • Staff member name.
  • Course name (whether informal in-house or accredited).
  • Completion date.
  • Signed off by.
    Once you’ve created the above document just make sure you keep on top of it by ensuring refreshers are arranged as often as advised.

Have a search online and you’ll start to get a feel for what other companies are doing with regards to refresher intervals and if you are unsure take advice from a Health and Safety professional.


Competency Planning is simply managing a diary of refresher courses, ensuring your new staff are given all the training opportunities they require and that all existing staff are given refreshers at appropriate intervals. It’s also important that every refresher course is tracked.

Remember that if your audit log doesn’t show a course completion and there’s no other way to prove it was completed, in the event of an accident it would be assumed that the training was not given.

It’s in everyone’s best interests to properly log all training given – be that informal or accredited.


Be aware that you need to assess your work tasks each time a change occurs, so if you change the brand of product, buy a new tool or even just change the time a person completes a task, you need to then reassess training needs.

It could mean bringing in new requirements for Lone Working, for example, or some new COSHH training requirements.

Be confident that you know the task inside out and have considered every part of it.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help – H&S Consultants are available to visit your organisation and advise you for a fee. Any fee will be much less expensive than a non-compliance case, so taking this advice may prove to be worth every penny. Just make sure you’re dealing with a reputable company who are suitably qualified.


As an employer, you must complete Risk Assessments for your staff and their work tasks. In the UK risk assessments are required by law when a workplace employs more than five employees.

To complete one, you must think carefully about the ways in which someone may come to harm because of their work, and also consider the steps that are possible to eliminate or mitigate the overall risk involved to the employee, contractor or member of the public.

A risk assessment should be used as an aid to ensure that all the dangers are covered in your working environment.

The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommend five steps to writing an effective risk assessment:

  • Identify the hazards.
  • Decide who might be harmed and how.
  • Assess the risks and take action.
  • Make a record finding.
  • Review the risk assessment and update if necessary.

We have broken down these five steps to provide you with further guidance about how to set about doing your risk assessments – however, we would recommend having a Health and Safety Consultant check over any assessments you complete to ensure compliance.


The first step is to accurately identify the hazards of your working environment.

The best place to start is to slowly walk around the workplace and think about any hazards that may occur for certain tasks that are performed.

Use our list of quick hazards at the end of this guide as a reference to help you identify different issues. To add further detail to this you should then question why the activity, process or substances that are used may cause harm to an employee.

Please note, that it is also extremely common to overlook hazards or risks in the workplace because you work there every day. Therefore, it is advised that you identify hazards alongside co-workers, so that everybody can contribute to filling in the gaps for other employees where appropriate.

To reduce the possibility of overlooking certain hazards, you should:

  • Consult the manufacturers’ instructions or Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for chemicals and equipment. This neutralises the probability of a hazard being overlooked.
  • Review your accident and ill-health records, these can be extremely useful in identifying hazards which are not so obvious to many individuals.
  • Take account of processes and operations which may not strictly have a routine i.e. cleaning operations or change in production cycle.
  • Long-term hazards should also be accounted for, this includes things such as continued exposure to high levels of noise or harmful substances.
  • Look for guidance from your national health and safety board.
  • Remember that your hazards can vary significantly depending on the types of work that are carried out at your organisation.

Your risk assessments must be site, task, and people-specific as the usage of generic risk assessments would not hold up in a court of law.


When you reach this step you should be concerned with how your employees, or anybody else in the surrounding area for that matter, may come to harm due to the processes and tasks carried out or substances being handled in your working environment.

If you are unsure about the hazards related to a certain area then it would be wise to invite a Health and Safety Consultant to assess this for you.

Remember that you do not have to list everybody who may come to harm by name, it need only be groups of people who can be harmed by the hazards in a working environment, for example passers-by or members of staff who work on the manufacturing floor.

Bear in mind that some workers may also have specific requirements that should be looked at specifically, for example young workers, non-native language workers, and new or expectant mothers.

Risk Assessments can also to applicable to those who are not always in your environment e.g. visitors or workers from other organisations who you share space with.
Always consult your employees to see if there is any you may have missed.


Once the risks have been decided, you must then decide how likely it is that harm may come to an employee and what to do about it (applying a control measure).

It is impossible to eliminate all risk, but you should aim to make the working environment as safe as possible for all those involved, managing the issues responsibly.

The measure that you take should be deemed ‘reasonably practicable’, in that the control on a risk should be balanced towards the time, money and difficulty of implementation.

No action is needed if it is extremely disproportionate to the level of risk.

You are also not expected to be able to predict the future, but you can assess the risks of hazards or incidents that are ‘reasonably foreseeable’.

Consider the tasks that are already occurring and ask yourself:

  • Is it possible to eliminate the risk completely?
  • If it is not possible, in what ways can the risk be mitigated or controlled?
  • Examples of mitigating or controlling a risk where it cannot be eliminated are the provision of Personal Protective
  • Equipment (PPE), providing welfare facilities, and organising work to reduce exposure.

Note that this list is non-exhaustive as there are many ways to control risks dependant on your type of work.

It is also best practice to involve your workers when the appropriate control measures are decided upon to ensure that there are no unforeseen hazards as a result of any new implementations.

A ‘model’ risk assessment may also be created if you control a number of workplaces where similar activities occur and hazards are alike across the sites.

Additionally, you may find model assessments from trade associations or other organisations, but these cannot be just used as a substitute – if you do decide to use a third-party model assessment then the hazards must still be specific to your tasks, people, and environment, which also includes making any necessary additions to these model assessments where appropriate.

However, it would be best practice to produce your own to ensure that everything is accounted for.


For this section you must record anything of significance such as hazards, how people may be harmed and any control measures that are in place.

In UK workplaces where there are fewer than five employees, nothing needs to be recorded, although it would be best practice to still do so in case of any changes in the future.

If you have more than five employees, then it is required by UK law.

If you are struggling to record information, the HSE provide a risk assessment template to guide you and they recommend a simple record. There need not be piles of paperwork, for example “Working at height near a fall – physical barrier placed near fall which is checked frequently” would be considered a sufficient record.

Put simply, the HSE recommend that a risk assessment should be “suitable and sufficient”, and must show:

  • That the appropriate check was made.
  • That anybody who might be affected was questioned.
  • That the obvious and significant hazards have been identified, with consideration to the number of people who may be affected.
  • That the precautions/controls made are relevant to the hazard and any remaining risk is therefore low.
  • That employees or their representative has been involved in the process of writing the document.
  • If the work you conduct changes frequently (e.g. employees moving from site to site regularly, such as in construction), then the risk assessment can be completed in a broader sense.

When there are several hazards in a workplace, the order of importance and seriousness of the risk determines how the document should be laid out.


It is highly unlikely that your working environment is going to remain static and in many industries it may change daily.

Nevertheless, there will eventually be new equipment introduced or procedures implemented that will incur new hazards.

From this basis, you must review your current risk assessment and question whether it is still relevant.

Ask yourself:

  • Have there been any significant changes?
  • Are there any improvements that can be made?
  • Have any employees pointed out concerns/problems?
  • If there have been any near-misses or accidents, what can be learned from these?
  • Always ensure that your risk assessments are reviewed at appropriate intervals and stay up-to-date.


We’ve put together an index of the type of risks you should look for when you are assessing your work place.

This list is far from conclusive but it is intended to give you an idea of the types of things you should be looking for.

  • Fire
  • Electric Shock
  • Slips, Trips & Falls
  • Heights
  • Falling Objects
  • Water
  • Ice
  • Extreme Temperatures
  • Chemicals
  • Explosives
  • Repetitive Motion Injuries or Strains
  • Manual Handling
  • Confined Spaces
  • Exits
  • Equipment
  • Exposure to chemicals/toxins
  • Fumes
  • Public/Passerby Safety
  • Weight & Height Limits
  • Workplace Stress
  • Vehicle Safety
  • Safe Movement of Vehicles
  • Violence at Work
  • Vulnerable Adults and/or Children
  • Sun Exposure
  • Asbestos
  • Legionella
  • Food Safety
  • Water Accessible and Fit for Consumption
  • Whistle Blowing

This guide was provided by CRAMS. A platform designed to support organisations and their employees in completing site, people, and task specific documentation in a responsive real-time environment.

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