Safety in the Workplace:
Tips for Small Businesses

See also: Risk Management

It’s common in some smaller businesses for safety to fall down the list of priorities. With seemingly endless competing demands for small business owners to compete with, it is perhaps no surprise that workplace safety often slips down the to-do list. While it might feel like it’s every person for themself, all employers, no matter the size of their business, have a legal and practical obligation to ensure the safety of their employees.

Accidents and injuries can lead to compensation lawsuits, can alienate people from applying to work with you, and can potentially cause long lasting damage to the reputation of your brand. With that in mind, let’s look at how small businesses can help ensure safety in the workplace.

Employee safety training

One of the most powerful ways of ensuring safety in the workplace is through employee safety training. By including safety training as part of your new employee onboarding, and then maintaining it as a feature of your workforce’s continuing professional development, you can empower and encourage employees to play an active role towards health and safety, rather than just taking the back seat as an observer.

Employee safety training can include a wide range of different topics. These might include how to safely use various pieces of equipment, from an oven to forklift trucks, or it could be on safety procedures like reporting hazards. Whatever you do, remember that safety training is an ongoing process, and you’ll need frequent refresher courses to keep things up to date.

Cultivating leaders in safety

Part of your approach to employee safety training in the workplace should be through identifying and then cultivating certain individuals, who can step up to take a leadership role. When responsibility for something as broad as ‘safety’ is spread across a whole team, it can become the case that everyone grows complacent, operating under the belief that someone else will sort out issues if they don’t.

Leadership in the realm of safety helps pinpoint a little more responsibility on certain people, helping to ensure that issues are dealt with quickly and safely. This process can involve several steps.

Identifying those with leadership potential

First, you’ll need to see who shows a natural tendency towards leadership among your employees. They could be a manager or leadership figure already, or they could be a diligent worker in any position. What matters is that they’re observant, have an excellent safety record, and that they get along well with their fellow coworkers.

That last point is important. In order for safety leaders to be listened to by their peers, they have to make suggestions in a certain manner, in an appropriate tone. Giving orders in a domineering manner can build resentment, tarnishing the atmosphere in the workplace and decrease the likelihood that safety recommendations are followed.

Encourage participation

Not only are these safety leaders capable of implementing safety measures and making recommendations to their peers in the workforce, but they’re also in a unique situation to make observations and suggestions on a company’s broader safety policy.

Once you’ve identified them, it’s important to encourage these safety leaders to participate in safety consultations, in which they can make suggestions based on their experience. Their insights will often be far deeper than those gleaned during a quick safety review; combined with risk assessments, this can lead to a highly effective approach to health and safety.

Additional training for safety leaders

With the help of your HR department, you can then provide these safety leaders with additional training to help them step up into their role. Part of this training will be in practical measures. These might include sessions on the appropriate use of PPE, carrying out risk assessments, and evacuation procedures.

Another part of the training that shouldn’t be overlooked is helping these individuals with the social aspect of their role. Training sessions can be given on how to engage coworkers most effectively on sensitive safety issues, using communication methods that don’t lead to alienation.

Depending on the size of your organisation, it might be appropriate to have multiple safety leaders. It’s important to have certain responsible individuals, but these employees also have other roles to fulfil, making it important that you don’t put a disproportionate burden on just one or two people.

Maintain a clean and safe environment

A large number of accidents are the result of a property being left cluttered and unmaintained. Something as simple as packaging left in a hallway presents a significant trip hazard, and could even block employees from exiting in the case of an emergency.

Ensure that your premises are adequately ventilated, and make sure that you have a water safety plan in place to mitigate any water-related hazards. Check your specific responsibilities as an employer - certain industries may have obligations that others don’t, such as if there are toxic or flammable materials present in the workplace.

Prioritise vehicle maintenance

If your employees need to drive for work-related purposes, their time on the road will likely be the most hazardous environment that they find themselves in. If they drive a company vehicle, it’s imperative that you stay on top of vehicle maintenance.

Make sure that you stay up to date with servicing, and consider the safety rating of all new vehicles that you add to your company fleet. Avoiding any traffic-related incidents must become a priority, and this is an effective way of achieving that.

Reach out to the experts

While larger businesses can usually afford the luxury of an entire section of HR dedicated to health and safety, smaller businesses often simply don’t have this option available to them. The entire range of HR considerations might be taken care of by a single individual, or there may not even be the resources for that.

As a result, it’s often highly beneficial from an HR standpoint to reach out to experts for further health and safety support. That way, you can get expert advice on what measures to implement, without the need to pay for an ongoing department.

About the Author

Gavin Scarr Hall is the director of health & safety at Peninsula, the UK's leading provider of human resources, employment law, and health & safety services to small businesses.

Gavin is an accomplished, influential and commercially astute business leader with a wealth of experience leading development, construction, TIC (Testing, Inspection & Certification) and asset management businesses in both the private and public sectors. He has delivered significant and sustainable profitable growth and shareholder value to multiple businesses.