Health and safety for small businesses: A guide

Authored by Hiscox Experts.
7 min read
A person about to trip over a hazard in the workplace

A thorough and effective small business health and safety policy is an important building block of any organisation. It helps to keep your employees, your customers and your business safe from harm. Discover how to create the right policy for your business in this guide.

Do small businesses need a health and safety policy?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says every business, small or large, is required by law to have a health and safety policy[1]. This written policy should outline how you intend to implement the plan and ensure the safety of your employees.

If you have fewer than five employees then by law you don’t need to have this written down. However, employees may still ask you if you have any policies in place – the HSE states.

Who sets small business health and safety laws?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) (external link) is a branch of Government responsible for the creation and upkeep of health and safety laws. However, it is only responsible for the enforcement of these laws across some industry sectors, including:

  • Schools and colleges
  • Government organisations
  • Factories and construction sites
  • Farms
  • Hospitals and nursing homes
  • Gas, electricity and water organisations
  • Mines
  • Fairgrounds
  • Offshore constructions

It may be that your local authority is responsible for the enforcement of health and safety within your industry. Local authorities have health and safety responsibilities within:

  • Restaurants, pubs and clubs
  • Places of worship
  • Shops
  • Hotels and leisure properties
  • Non-government offices
  • Care homes and sheltered accommodation
  • Museums
  • Nurseries

There are other health and safety law areas that have dedicated departments to tackle related issues – for example, food safety, highways, and waste disposal. You can visit the HSE website (external link) to see who to contact for these particular concerns.

How to create a small business health and safety policy

It’s important for you, as a small business owner, to make sure your health and safety policy complies with the law and is representative of your industry and workplace. The HSE advises (external link) that your policy should cover the following three areas to ensure compliance[2].

Statement of intent

A statement of intent sets your intentions to implement and manage health and safety in your workplace. It’s also where you write up your general policy, which means you should sign and revise it regularly to ensure it’s up to date.


You will also need to decide who is responsible for maintaining health and safety in your business. You’ll need to list the names, roles and responsibilities of the employees you’ve chosen, so people know who to contact in certain situations.


The arrangements section of your small business health and safety policy should outline how your policy is achievable at work. This might include any special equipment you have invested in, any training in place, and risk assessments.

What are health and safety risks?

Health and safety risks are hazards, identified through a risk assessment, which could cause injury or illness to employees or others in your workplace[3]. Risk assessments need to be thorough to ensure you avoid any potential health and safety issues.

The HSE advises that you can carry out a risk assessment by identifying[4]:

What are the potential hazards?

First, you’ll need to identify the potential hazards at your workplace. You can do this by carrying out a thorough inspection. Think about the activities your employees engage in to do their job, the equipment they use and any harmful scenarios they could encounter.

The HSE has great resources for managing risks (external link) and hazard spotting (external link) for small businesses to offer a helping hand with this step.

Who could be harmed?

Once these risks have been identified, you need to consider how your employees, or customers, might be harmed by them. Don’t forget, your employees will be particularly useful here, as they will likely be able to identify the ‘how’s and ‘who’s that might not be as obvious to you.

Classify who might be at risk into different categories, for example:

  • Do any of your employees have particular requirements that enable them to work?
  • Does your work affect anyone not employed by you? For example, people who work nearby
  • Who is at the workplace every day (employees) and who comes and goes (contractors and customers)?

What is the risk?

Once you’ve identified the potential hazards and the potential people they could harm, you need to work out the level of risk. For example, how likely is it this will happen and how might you prevent it happening? Prioritise the risks that are most likely to harm people within your workplace. But don’t leave out any possibilities.

How often should I review my health and safety policy?

Reviewing your health and safety policy every year is considered best practice. This means going through your current measures and updating them if you find they do not serve to protect against identified risks.

You may want to consider:

  • Carrying out another risk assessment
  • Speaking to employees to see if the current policy works for them
  • Reviewing both major and minor instances to see where things could be improved
  • Going over the last year of accident reports to identify any improvements that could be made.

Consult your workers

Getting your health and safety policy written up is one thing, but making your employees aware and ensuring they understand how to follow it and how to raise improvements, is another. The HSE states you must consult your workers on health and safety[5].

This process works both ways. While it’s important to create and implement these polices among your employees, taking suggestions from the people who work for you is also vital to their effectiveness. A good way to do this could be to host training and information sessions that provide an open space to cooperate on your policy.

Appoint the right team

Choose someone you trust in the business to help with the formation and execution of your policy, the HSE advises. The person you choose must be knowledgeable enough to ensure you, as an employer, are successfully enacting preventative measures in your workplace and to hold you to standards if you are not. You can either offer training to an existing employee to appoint them or recruit an expert from an external agency.

Train your employees

As well as training the chosen individual to help keep health and safety standards up to date, provide your workforce with training to ensure everyone knows the part they play in keeping the workplace safe.

You should include full and part-time employees in this training, plus new hires and those who may have transitioned into a different role.

Employees should understand:

  • What – identify hazards and the risks they cause
  • Who – who might these hazards cause harm to and how?
  • How – how are you implementing health and safety policy to prevent possible harm?

Invest in first aid

It’s not always possible to prevent accidents and even with a first-rate health and safety policy, unforeseen incidents can happen. It might not be anyone’s fault, but you still need to have first aid knowledge.

Along with having a good first aid kit, or multiple, accessible within your workplace, you also need to make sure first aid information, and who to contact in the event of an incident, is available to all.

There should be at least one employee fully trained in carrying out first aid, who is also in charge of taking care of the necessary arrangements in the event of an accident.

Display your poster

The HSE provides a free health and safety law poster (external link), available to download on their website, that all employers must visibly display in the workplace. You can either print this or give each employee a health and safety leaflet or pocket card.

This is a legal requirement written in the Health and Safety for Employees Regulations 1989 act[6].

Adding the names and contact details of company first aiders isn’t a legal requirement but can prove very useful should an accident happen.

Report accidents

Should someone become injured or fall ill within your workplace due to business operations, it must be reported to the HSE[7]. You must also report what is classified as a ‘near-miss’, incidents which might seem less severe but could have led to something far more serious.

Keeping track of this information is also useful when attempting to identify risk patterns as part of a risk assessment or should you need your employers’ liability insurance policy. For more information, our FAQ guide has the details of what employers’ liability is – if you are searching for a policy, it’s also possible to get tailored cover with Hiscox employers’ liability insurance.

You should report incidents in an Accident Book (external link), and these less ‘severe’ incidents in a Near-miss Book (external link) – these can be purchased directly from the HSE. Ensure personal details are securely stored when recording information to avoid breaching GDPR rules.









At Hiscox, we want to help your small business thrive. Our blog has many articles you may find relevant and useful as your business grows. But these articles aren’t professional advice. So, to find out more on a subject we cover here, please seek professional assistance.

Hiscox Experts

The Hiscox Experts are leaders valued for their experience within the insurance industry. Their specialisms include areas such as professional indemnity and public liability, across industries including media, technology, and broader professional services. All content authored by the Hiscox Experts is in line with our editorial guidelines.