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Becoming an employer (2) - your health and safety responsibilities

Updated: Feb 23, 2022

Despite the fact I've worked in HR roles for more than 20 years, I wasn't actually aware (until I looked it up) that you can be fined £2,500 PER DAY for not having Employer's Liability Insurance in place. It shocked me, and shocked a couple of my clients too when I mentioned it to them. You must also display your insurance certificate somewhere that your employees can view it (which can be electronically).

So, one of the first things I did when I was preparing to become an employer myself is find some ER's liability insurance. I got mine from the same insurer who provides my public liability and professional indemnity insurance and adding it on to the policy was very easy indeed.

Employer's liability insurance covers you for legal and compensation expenses as a result of an employee making a claim against you due to becoming ill or injured at work. The cost of the policy will depend upon the sum you insure (£5m as a minimum), the number of people you employ and the risks associated with the work those people do.

In my mind, linked to the purchase of ER's liability insurance is considering the health, safety and wellbeing risks associated with the work your people will be doing. As soon as you employ someone, or take on a worker*, you become legally responsible for their health, safety and wellbeing at work. Some business owners and managers hear this and get scared stiff about it. Others are rather more blasé and assume nothing bad can happen - all their people have common sense, don't they...?

All employers need to do a number of things to meet the requirements of the Health & Safety at Work Act. These include having a safe place of work, safe equipment and systems of work, providing safety information and training to your workers, and conducting risk assessments.

You only HAVE to start writing all this down once you have 5 employees, but I think it's a good idea to note down what you think about and what you decide to do about it, even if you only have one employee, like me.

Even though I didn't legally have to, I sat myself down and wrote a brief Health, Safety and Wellbeing Policy, including guidance for my staff on areas such as safe workstations, accidents and ill health (including Covid-19), driving for work, and managing stress. As both me and my team member work from our own homes, I also included some basic guidance on having a safe place to work within our own homes.

Yes, be aware that if your people work in their own homes then you are still responsible for their health and safety at work and must do the basics to ensure their workplace is safe. It's not good enough to assume they'll look after themselves - even though most people do.

For those with a shared physical workplace, I would recommend additional sections on welfare facilities (toilets and drinking water, etc.), first aid provision, emergency evacuations, manual handling (lifting and carrying stuff), and work equipment (including Personal Protective Equipment, if applicable). These are a minimum - what you write and the sections you need will depend upon the outcomes of your risk assessment.

You can get lots of helpful advice on health and safety in small businesses from the HSE website ( In most cases, it's not as complicated as you may think. Also, talking about health, safety and wellbeing with your team, then agreeing some small actions to reduce the risks can make a big difference to your staff, to productivity and to potential absences from work.

Even though my employee and I will be working in our own homes, we're still doing some e-learning about safe workstations and completing individual workstation risk assessments. And we'll talk about how to ensure we take appropriate breaks and share workload in the right way to help avoid pressure turning into stress at any point.

As business owners (and human beings!), none of us want to end up in a situation where someone becomes ill or injured when working for us. Hopefully because we care about our people, not just because it can have horrific consequences if you are held liable.

So, three steps to help protect yourself as an employer:

  • Buy yourself some Employer's liability insurance in case the worst happens.

  • Then review anything that could have a negative impact on health, safety or wellbeing at work and discuss it with your people.

  • Lastly, take actions, share information and provide training that will help reduce the risks to your people.

  • And if you have 5 or more workers then make sure you document what you consider and decide.

If you would like some help with the basics of health, safety and wellbeing in the workplace then feel free to get in touch with a chat. I can provide template documents, help you think through your risks and suggest training options.

In particular, I will be organising a low cost training day for some local business owners (including me) on managing health and safety at work, to help us all feel we can satisfy the legal requirement to have a "competent person" in our business when it comes to health and safety. Get in touch if you're local to Princes Risborough and would like to join in.

Next up - contracts of employment

* A worker is someone who is not "employed" by your business, but satisfies certain criteria to be considered a worker - rather than someone genuinely self-employed. Be careful about people may think you can ignore when it comes to being workers or employees. I'm happy to chat it through if you're ever unsure.

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