Health and Safety for small businesses: A simple guide 

Who is responsible for health and safety in the workplace?

In the first instance, health and safety is the responsibility of the employer. Under the Health and Safety at work Act (1974) you have a duty to:

  • Protect staff and any members of the public visiting the premises;

  • Assess all foreseeable hazards;

  • Provide any necessary safety equipment or clothing;

  • Have a written health and safety policy (if you have more than five employees)

  • Appropriate training for staff so they can manage risks posed by their work and work environment; 

  • Consult with employees on health and safety matters; this can be done directly or through a health and safety representative (elected or supplied by the trade union);

  • Report to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on serious accidents; 

Once these things are in place, employees also become responsible for health and safety by;

  • Appropriate conduct in the workplace;

  • Following policies and procedures laid out by the employer;

  • Using safety equipment or clothing provided by the employer;

  • Reporting any hazards or accidents to their employer.

We will look at these responsibilities in more detail below.

How health and safety legislation applies to you

There are two types of legislation that we will look at.

Firstly, legislation setting out the universal duties and responsibilities that apply to all businesses, and secondly are pieces of legislation and regulations covering areas which are more discreet that cover certain types of work. Specialist and high-risk areas such as chemical manufacturing or construction have additional regulatory frameworks due to the magnitude of the hazards involved. 

Universal legislation:

1. The Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) 

The Health and Safety At Work Act (1974) is the main piece of legislation covering health and safety law in the United Kingdom. It provides the legal duties of employers and employees. Employers are required to “ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health safety and welfare at work of all employees”. This also extends to people visiting the premises such as customers or visitors. 

2. Workplace (Healthy, Safety and Welfare) Regulations (1992) 

These Regulations are designed to ensure that not only is a workplace safe but it is also a suitable environment for the people working in it. This covers practicalities like having toilets, washrooms, break rooms, suitable lighting and ventilation, safe walkways and protection from falling objects. 

3. Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999) 

In addition to responsibilities already listed, this emphasised the need for employers to have completed risk assessment of their premises, and the type of work undertaken there. 

These assessments include hazards such as fire, electrical safety, manual handling, trip hazards, appropriate signage, workstation assessments. 

The employer then needs to;

  • Implement the measure identified in the risk assessment;

  • Appoint competent people to implement the arrangements;

  • Make emergency procedures clear;

  • Inform and train employees;

4. Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) 2013

The HSE makes it clear that any death, injury or illness should be reported. They provide details and specific guidance on their website. Anyone with responsibility for health and safety in an organisation should make themselves familiar with these guidelines.

Sector Specific Legislation and Regulations:

1. Display Screen Equipment Regulations (DSE) (1992) (amended 2002) 

This applies to any employer who has employees using display screen equipment for more than an hour at a time. This covers PC’s, laptops, tablets and smartphones. These regulations require that; 

  • All employees are given a DSE workstation assessment;

  • Regular breaks are encouraged; 

  • Equipment needed to improve posture/mitigate impact on existing health conditions is provided; 

  • Employees are given training on how to use DSE healthily and safely. 

2. Personal Protective Equipment Regulations (PPE) 2018 

These apply in environments that present significant risks to employee health and safety. This could be from a variety of sources such as falling materials or contact with hazardous substances.

The PPE regs place a responsibility on the employer to provide PPE when the potential risk of harm cannot be mitigatedany other way. As such, PPE is seen as a last resort in creating a safer working environment. Once PPE has been identified as necessary to reduce risk of injury to the employee, the employee has the responsibility to wear or use it. 

3. Manual Handling Operations Regulations MHOR (1992 (amended 2002) 

According to the HSE definition, ‘manual handling relates to the moving of items either by lifting, lowering, carrying, pushing or pulling’. 

These regulations aim to reduce injuries to employees in manual handling situations. There is a spectrum of handling, from getting a box off a high cupboard in an office environment through to handling chemicals and hazardous materials. 

The latter will require much more rigorous risk assessment and implementation measures than the former, however both are manual handling situations; it is just the element of risk and severity of hazard that is greater. 

The employer has the responsibility to reduce the risk as far as is reasonably practicable. Where this is not reasonably practicable, then you will need to explore changes to the task, the load and the working environment.


Remember, your health and safety policy, risk assessment and safety measures will be unique to you, your staff, your building and your working environment. A business with a robust health and safety culture is one that understands its legal responsibilities and proactively works to ensure they are complied with. 

To summarise, every business needs the following elements to be operating within the Health and Safety framework in the UK;   

  • A competent person responsible for health and safety (can be part of the organisation or a third party engaged to provide specialist support);

  • A written and displayed health and safety policy (over 5 employees); 

  • A comprehensive risk assessment of their own premises, procedures and employee’s activities;

  • To ensure that risks identified in the risk assessment are reduced to as low a level as is reasonably practicable;

  • To promptly implement any recommendations from the risk assessment;

  • To be aware of incidents that do need to be reported to the HSE; and

  • To regularly review Health and Safety policies in line with the organisation’s development.

How EDP Can Help

EDP are health and safety experts and have a long-established track record of providing consultancy to clients in a range of sectors and for businesses of all sizes and types.

If you want to find out more about Health and Safety practice in the workplace then contact us. We can provide everything from a competent person for your organisation to training for your workforce.

To speak to one of our expert team members about how we can help you with your health and safety responsibilities, call 0845 644 5354,  or email

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