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Posted 6th June 2024

How Can SMEs Protect Staff From Workplace Injuries?

No business wants to lose staff to injuries on the job, but for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the impact of workplace accidents is amplified significantly. To that end, we’ve provided this guidance on what the legal duties of employers are regarding health and safety, and how SMEs can take steps to not only ensure […]

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how can smes protect staff from workplace injuries?.


How Can SMEs Protect Staff From Workplace Injuries?

No business wants to lose staff to injuries on the job, but for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the impact of workplace accidents is amplified significantly. To that end, we’ve provided this guidance on what the legal duties of employers are regarding health and safety, and how SMEs can take steps to not only ensure these laws are being complied with but how this will be of benefit to the business. 

What Duties Do SMEs Have When It Comes To Workplace Safety?

Every employer, no matter the size of the business, has a duty of care to their employees. As an employer, you are legally obligated under the Health and Safety At Work etc. Act 1974 to take reasonable steps to ensure employee safety. 

What amounts to “reasonable” will vary from workplace to workplace. For example, construction contractors have additional obligations under the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations to ensure the safety of their sites. 

Other legislation that may be relevant includes:

  • The Work At Height Regulations 2005, sets out the requirements for working above ground level.
  • The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998, established the duty to provide work equipment that is safe to use and fit for purpose.

In a nutshell, businesses of all sizes are required by law to identify the possible risks to staff in their workplace and take all reasonable steps to remove or mitigate these factors. 

Can An Employee Make A Compensation Claim?

Under certain circumstances, yes they could. If employees can demonstrate that they suffered an injury as a result of their employer breaching their legal duty of care, they could make a claim for accident at work compensation. If they’re in a trade union, the employee could get legal support from them, or they could instruct personal injury solicitors to represent them.   

An employee could also make what’s known as a vicarious liability claim if they are attacked by a customer or other employee and no steps were taken to avoid this. For example:

An employee reported harassing and prejudiced behaviour by a colleague to HR a number of times, but no suitable actions were taken. The employee was subsequently assaulted by their colleague and suffered severe bruising and fractured ribs. Therefore, the company was vicariously liable for these injuries as they knew about the potential risk to their employee but took no action to address it. 

Now this is not a desirable turn of events by any standard. Furthermore, litigation and compensation claims can be avoided if the measures are in place to maintain a safe working environment and the concerns of employees are promptly addressed.

What Steps Can Companies Take To Avoid Workplace Accidents?

Now we’ve looked at the duty owed by SMEs to their staff, we should address how this duty can be satisfied. As we said above, how the legal duty can be met can vary wildly. But, we have provided some broad-ranging examples here:

  1. Risk assessments: Before any reasonable steps can be taken, a thorough risk assessment to identify the potential hazards needs to be undertaken. All possible risk factors, such as heavy loads, machinery and vehicles, chemicals, and trip hazards, should be considered. 
  2. Design work tasks and environments to minimise injuries and eliminate risks: The best way to avoid risks is to design the working environment to eliminate them altogether. For example, conveyor belts and lifting equipment can eliminate the need for manual handling, and building loading and unloading areas that allow vehicles to come and go easily will ensure complex manoeuvring is kept to an absolute minimum. 
  3. Training: Once the work systems are in place, the employees should receive adequate and relevant training on how to use them safely. Only employees who have demonstrated an expected level of confidence should be allowed to use machinery and vehicles etc. 
  4. Maintenance checks: any working environment should be routinely inspected for wear, faults and signs of damage. Employers should repair or replace any faulty equipment, vehicles or infrastructure as soon as possible. Employees should also be notified of these faults and warning signs placed. 
  5. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): If necessary, employees should be given protective clothing, such as steel-toe-capped boots and gloves, to further mitigate risks that can’t be removed through redesigning the work environment and training. This equipment should be suitable for the context it’s being used and provided free of charge. Any replacements should also be free. 

Why Is It Worth Investing More In Health And Safety?

The benefits of investing resources in health and safety are plentiful and highly desirable. From a purely practical point of view, maintaining a safe and efficient working environment will boost productivity and protect the business from expensive legal actions. 

The benefits of investing in more health and safety include:

  • Employees will be able to complete their work activities more effectively in a well-designed and safe workspace, boosting productivity.
  • Reduction in production costs due to more efficient work practices, well-trained staff and the safe and proper use of work equipment. 
  • Healthy and happy employees mean fewer absences due to ill health, injuries and mental health concerns.
  • Improve the reputation of the business, and attract new staff, customers and investors, which could lead to you receiving awards.
  • You save on costs in having to recruit replacement staff as well as cheaper employers’ liability insurance premiums

Final Thoughts

Taking reasonable steps to ensure your workplace is safe is not simply a legal and moral obligation; it makes good business sense. By prioritising safety and investing the time and resources to create a safe work environment, SMEs can improve their productivity, increase their output, and improve their reputation as a safe and caring employer who looks after their staff.

While the initial outlay of new investment in health and safety measures will be high for SMEs, the long-term benefits to both the staff and the company’s bottom line will be substantial. 

Categories: News


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