Health and Safety Chat

What does health and safety mean for small business?

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Steve Schroder
3rd April 2017
Well, it is no secret that Worksafe NZ has a focus on keeping employees safe in the workplace. However many people believe that the H&S at work Act is aimed at large businesses and corporates. If this were the case, then most New Zealanders wouldn’t come under the legislation.
According to the Ministry of Business of innovation and employment 97% of business in New Zealand employee less than 20 staff (Ministry of Business, 2016). If you dig a little further, of that 97%, 72% of these have no employees at all! How does the act apply to small companies or those that are one man bands? A large proportion of these businesses are run from home

Well here is fact, the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA) specifically exempts homeowners, but, that only applies to people that are not making a profit at their home, i.e. not running a business from home. If you are making money from working at home, you will have responsibilities under the HSWA.

And here is another fact (that most health and safety people won’t tell you!) there is no legislative requirement to have a written health and safety system! What you do need to be able to do is be able to prove that you are taking all reasonable and practicable steps to manage the health and safety risks in your business.

So, what does this mean when it comes to health and safety? It all come down to the risks in the business you are undertaking. Let’s take two examples.

you do need to be able to do is be able to prove that you are taking all reasonable and practicable steps to manage the health and safety risks in your business.

Joe runs a lawn mowing business from his home. He has a home office, and he stores his equipment in his garage, but most of his time is spent working onsite mowing lawns. He has just scored a contract to mow a large development for a local developer. What levels health and safety do he need?

Simply my advice to Joe would be he would need to develop a system that assessed the risks of his business i.e. lawnmowers, traffic management, slopes, taking the mowers on and off the back of his vehicle, etc. and document how he is going to control these risks within the environment he is working. The risks of each site he goes to may be different or may have slightly different controls. His home office risks would be included as part of his review. He may find that the company he is contracted to requires him to have a health and safety plan or other H&S documentation.

Mary runs a cake decorating business from home. She bakes in her kitchen and produces cakes for her local area for birthdays, weddings, etc. She has two children but does not employee anyone. So, what does she need? (assume that she has complied with any council food safety requirements)

A documented health and safety system may be over the top! She would need to assess the risks in her business and put controls in place to reduce the risks to as low as reasonably practical. She probably does this every day and doesn’t realise it! Making sure the kitchen is clean and tidy to avoid any injuries arising from slips trips and falls etc.; ensure the children don’t come in the kitchen when she is baking to prevent them getting burnt; make sure she is wearing non-slip shoes and other appropriate safety gear, like an apron and cotton clothing to reduce the risk of fire, etc. Having a fire extinguisher and a specific burns kit would also be a consideration, as would be the need to consider what health and safety requirements of the venues that she might be delivering her cakes.

The difference between the two is that Joe has significantly higher risks profile than Mary.

The crux of this article is that small business have smaller resources and different challenges from corporates, but that does not mean that health and safety are not important to them, it also doesn’t need to be the Grinch that stops you from operating!

Think about it this way: if the biggest risk to your business is a papercut then buy some plasters, however, if you are knocking down a building then there had better be some significant controls in place to manage the health and safety.

At smart safety solutions, we specialise in customised safety systems for businesses, to make them relevant to both your business and your employees. If you think that your systems need work, need a safety plan and don’t know where to start or you simply want a second opinion, then give Steve or Susan a call today and see how we can help you.

Remember safety just doesn’t have to be that hard!