Every business that employs more than five people must produce a written health and safety policy.
As an employer, you need to inform your workers about the systems that are in place to protect their health and wellbeing. You should also outline your employees’ responsibilities — what are your expectations of them in terms of compliance with company policies and procedures?
The terms “policy” and “manual” are often used interchangeably when it comes to health and safety. There is minimal difference between the two — often a manual and a policy will contain the same information presented in a different format.
A policy is often kept as an official record of the organisation’s stance on health and safety, whereas a manual may be a more practical guide, intended to be used as a working document by employees. Rather than being a single document, a health and safety manual will often contain multiple pieces of information including policies, processes and procedures.
The purpose of manuals and policies is to ensure that any people that could be affected by the operations of a business — employees, suppliers, customers — have access to the information they need to minimise the risk of accident or injury and maintain optimum standards of safety.
1. Draft a Policy Using the Three Key Areas of Health and Safety
Your health and safety policy will form the basis of the manual. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) suggests three key sections for a good policy.
2. Consider Who Will Use the Manual
The content, format and wording of your health and safety manual should be appropriate for the intended users. It may be helpful or necessary to create several versions of the manual with slight adaptations to suit different users. For example, if you frequently invite clients on site, having an employee manual and a visitor’s manual may be wise.
This is where the policy and the manual are likely to differ the most. The manual should be a practical reference for your teams. Break down any lengthy sections or complex jargon into short, direct sentences in easy-to-understand language. Make sure that any abbreviations used are written in full at first — don’t assume that everyone will have the same knowledge as you — the information should be accessible to new members of staff as well as seasoned professionals.
3. Emphasise the Most Important Issues
A business’ health and safety policy will need to cover every potential hazard and preventive measure in detail. Your health and safety manual should be comprehensive too, but don’t forget that it is a reference tool. Prioritise the information by including the most critical safety issues first and working through to more minor considerations.
Consider using different fonts, bold text or symbols to highlight areas of particular importance. You don’t want a crucial piece of safety advice to be lost amidst a sea of text or a lengthy, unordered list of procedures.
4. Make Sure Your Manual Contains Everything it Legally Should
The HSE website is a rich source of industry standards and government regulations. Make sure that you have included all the information you are legally obligated to share with employees and other individuals by checking industry-specific guidelines. If you’re not sure where to start, our health and safety consultants can compile a list of regulations applicable to your business activities ensuring that you remain legally compliant.
5. Ask for Feedback
Having an up-to-date, accurate, legally compliant and practically useful health and safety manual is crucial for keeping people safe and protecting your business from the lawsuits and compensation claims. When you have completed a first draft of the manual or manuals, ask a selection of potential users to review the document(s).
Is there any information that is unclear or missing? Do the layout and language make the information easy to understand? Use any feedback to tweak your manual until it is truly fit for purpose. And remember, health and safety documents should not be written once and never amended. You should review them at least annually and when any significant changes to the business occurs.
Howlett Health and Safety Services can work with you to create health and safety documents that are relevant to your specific industry and that help you achieve legal compliance. Get in touch for a free quote and 15-minute consultation today.