Health and Safety Policy: In-depth

  • Summary

    A health and safety policy indicates an organisation’s commitment to health and safety. There is a legal requirement for the preparation of this policy, but the size and scope of the documentation for it can range from a single simple statement to detailed sets of manuals.

    This topic gives an overview of how to compile a health and safety policy and explains its three components and how to lay it out. It also considers the reasons for having a health and safety policy, its objectives, and how to communicate the policy to the workforce.

    Employers’ Duties

    • Employers have a duty under s.2(3) of the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974, to prepare, implement and revise, as necessary, a health and safety policy. Employees must be informed of the policy and of any amendments made to it.
    • Employers with fewer than five employees are exempt from the requirement to have a written health and safety policy document. However, if an employer operates a number of small establishments, where each establishment employs fewer than five employees but where all form part of the same undertaking, the employer is obliged to prepare a written health and safety policy for the whole undertaking.
    • Under regulation 4 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSWR), employers have a duty to implement preventive and protective control measures on the basis of the general principles of prevention specified in schedule 1 to the regulations.
    • Under regulation 5 of the MHSWR, the employer must implement appropriate health and safety arrangements. The management system (health and safety policy) will need to reflect the complexity of the organisation’s activities and working environment. The approach for successful health and safety management should be based on the Plan, Do, Check, Act model.
    • For employers with five or more employees, these arrangements must be recorded in writing.
    • The Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 require employers to consult with safety representatives on matters relating to health and safety, including the development of the health and safety policy.
    • The Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996 require employers to consult directly with employees or safety representatives, where such representatives are elected from the workforce , on matters relating to health and safety, which includes the development of the health and safety policy.
    • Regulation 7 of the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 2015 requires operators to prepare, retain and implement a policy document for preventing major accidents.

    Employees’ Duties

    • Employees have a duty to take reasonable care of their own health and safety and that of other people who may be affected by their work and co-operate with their employer in applying measures required under the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974.
    • Under the MHSWR, employees must inform their employer of any danger to health and safety posed by a work activity. They must also inform their employer of any shortcomings in the employer’s protection arrangements.

    In Practice

    Health and Safety Policy Overview

    Under the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 (HSWA), s.2(3), there is a general duty on an employer to prepare and, as often as may be necessary, revise a written statement of the organisation’s general policy with respect to the health and safety at work of employees and arrangements in force for carrying out that policy, and to bring the statement and any revision of it to the notice of employees.

    There is an exception to this general duty, which excludes any employer employing fewer than five people “for the time being”, ie on the premises at any one time, from the requirement to provide a written statement of this policy. However, it is still advisable for these employers to keep a record of general safety policy matters as this will help them to comply with health and safety law and will prove helpful, should any legal problems arise, as tangible evidence that they are dealing with health and safety issues.

    A health and safety policy enables an employer to establish its commitment to health and safety and to indicate the means by which this will be achieved. It can take many forms to suit the needs of the organisation. At one extreme it is little more than a broad indication of aims with guidance to where additional detail can be found elsewhere. At the other extreme, it can be a large formal set of documentation that is comprehensive in its coverage of all aspects of health and safety in the organisation. The level of depth is dependent on the size and complexity of the organisation and how the policy will be used.

    The benefits of having an effective health and safety policy include:

    • compliance with the relevant legal requirements
    • clarity for all those working in an organisation as to what health and safety standards apply and their role in creating and maintaining a safe and healthy working environment
    • ensuring all staff in a managerial position understand their obligations to the organisation and the workforce
    • demonstrated commitment to, and competence in, managing health and safety issues, which can have a positive influence on:
      • employment and retention strategies
      • customer and client perceptions
      • the running costs of the business.

    As important as preparing an adequate health and safety policy is the need to make it available to all those who need to see it.

    Policy Contents

    The policy should not be seen simply as a means to comply with a legal requirement. It must be a useful and usable document (or collection of documents). It must be an active part of the organisation’s daily work. As such, it will need to be a fully integrated part of the business strategy for the organisation and the management system by which this overall strategy is to be achieved.

    Thus, the general objectives of the health and safety policy are to provide a framework to indicate and guide the organisation’s aims to ensure the health and safety of its employees and those that are affected by the work done to further its business plans.

    The policy will generally consist of three parts:

    Statement of intent

    The general statement of intent will usually be brief, often taking up no more than a page. Nevertheless, it should meet a number of criteria. The statement should:

    • express a clear commitment from the organisation to protect the health and safety of those working for it and others who may be affected by its work activities
    • commit the organisation to complying with all relevant legal requirements
    • stipulate compliance by all management personnel with the legal duties and any further requirements relating to occupational health and safety specified in the policy document
    • require the compliance of all employees and the commitment to take an active part in maintaining a safe and health-conscious work environment
    • specify a commitment to regularly review and, where necessary, revise the policy
    • be signed and dated by senior management
    • be communicated to all employees.

    It could further:

    • commit to the continuous improvement of the health and safety of employees and others
    • oblige the organisation to comply with best practice
    • convey the conviction that safety and health protection are not inconsistent with profitability.

    To be effective, whatever is written in the policy must be put into practice. This means that the policy must reflect the organisation’s:

    • culture and commitment to health and safety
    • organisational structure, roles and responsibilities
    • actual systems and procedures that it uses to discharge its responsibilities.

    Only a document that is tailored to the organisation will reflect its commitment and practical approach to health and safety. This is key in achieving acceptable health and safety standards and reducing injuries and cases of work-related ill health.


    The statement is the organisation’s indication of its aims. It must have authority and it must be accepted as the aims and objectives of the entire organisation. Therefore, ownership should be clearly indicated by the signature of the policy by a senior executive officer of the organisation, eg the chairman or managing director.

    Organisation of responsibility and accountability

    This section of the policy is the means by which everyone in the organisation is made aware of their health and safety responsibilities. It is critical to the success of the policy that people are only given responsibilities for matters over which they have control, eg those given responsibility for finance or employee training programmes must have control of that function.

    This section will also indicate the relevant reporting lines, eg the most useful person to report something to.

    The health and safety policy statement does not need to record the full details of all procedures. It can refer to other documentation, eg risk assessments, training programmes and emergency instructions. However, the policy statement should record the arrangements and procedures for how these matters are to be managed.

    Core elements

    Core elements to be addressed within the arrangements section of a policy include arrangements for:

    • risk assessments
    • consultation with employees
    • information and instruction to be provided to employees
    • supervision of employees
    • training, including arrangements for promoting health and safety awareness
    • accidents, first aid and ill-health issues
    • cases of emergency, eg fire
    • establishing procedures for “serious and imminent danger”
    • providing personal protective equipment
    • maintaining plant and equipment
    • safe handling and use of substances
    • monitoring
    • machinery maintenance and breakdowns.

    Other elements, eg arrangements for the management of display screen equipment, noise or working at height, should be added as required, depending on the particular hazards facing an organisation.


    Management accountability starts at the top, from the person identified in the policy as having control of the business.

    Delegation of Responsibility

    The chair or managing director of a large company could not be expected to prevent a shock to an employee from an electrically untested kettle, but he or she should have delegated the responsibility for ensuring checks were carried out. If he or she had not ensured that the managers were given the responsibility and resources to have the equipment checked, then as well as the person in immediate control of the situation, the chair or managing director could be held accountable. Performance of duties can be delegated but legal responsibility cannot be delegated, even by putting into the policy a phrase like “the supervisor will be solely responsible for all health and safety in his or her section”, since only a court can ultimately decide who is legally responsible in the circumstances.

    The person at the “top of the tree” is ultimately responsible for the entire organisation. An organisational structure that identifies responsibilities with posts, rather than people, allows for changes in personnel without needing a revision of the policy. It means that:

    • comprehensive safety responsibilities can be given in the job description, along with the other responsibilities of the post
    • a new post-holder automatically acquires the same safety responsibilities
    • complying with the job description can then be a condition in the contract of employment
    • changes in the job description will not need a new contract of employment.

    All employees have a responsibility for themselves, even if they have no subordinates. They have a responsibility to take reasonable care of their own safety and that of others who may be affected by their actions or things they do not do that may, by their absence, cause an increased danger to others.

    Core responsibilities

    In all sizes of organisation, certain health and safety functions are necessary and should be included within the organisation section. Someone within the organisation should be assigned responsibility for:

    • making employees aware of the policy and how it applies to them
    • ensuring that employees are discharging their safety responsibilities properly
    • receiving information from staff about dangers and providing information about the hazards of the organisation’s activities
    • investigating, recording and reporting injuries, ill health and certain dangerous occurrences to the authorities when necessary
    • confirming mechanical and electrical safety, even if the work is carried out by contractors
    • fire safety, including drills, alarm checks, extinguishers
    • first-aid provisions, such as training first aiders, appointed persons, or ensuring there are adequate contents in the first-aid box
    • ensuring employees are given adequate instruction, information and training to perform their job safely
    • carrying out an adequate general risk assessment of the workplace, with more specific detailed risk assessments if required.
    Smaller organisations

    Smaller businesses may not need or wish to organise responsibilities in this way, but may simply nominate named individuals in relation to specific health and safety issues. If naming individuals rather than roles for specific duties, if there is a HR change the change should also be reflected in the policy. The following example shows how this could be written.

    John Smith is in charge of print room operations. He will:
    •             bring the safety policy to the attention of all employees in the print room

    •             ensure that employees are made aware of print room hazards and the means of controlling those hazards

    •             ensure that no chemicals are used unless the hazards associated with them have been identified and controls established, using our safety advisor service if necessary.

    Example Statement of Safety Responsibilities

    The person with overall legal responsibility for health and safety is Mr A Smith, Senior Executive. B Bloggs, General Manager, is given the responsibility for ensuring the day-to-day implementation of this policy.

    The person in charge of each department is responsible for:

    • implementation of this policy in his or her own department, and bringing it to the attention of all employees
    • compliance with safety precautions that apply to his or her department, including the regulating of contractors
    • ensuring that all new employees are properly inducted into the organisation, which must include an awareness of all precautions and procedures applicable to the job, and the emergency procedures
    • ensuring that no person is permitted to work with any kind of machinery or hazardous task unless they have been given authority and are fully instructed in the use of such equipment
    • ensuring that all staff are aware of the location of all fire-fighting equipment and alarm call points in the department, and are conversant with their effective use such as extinguishers are only to be used by trained individuals
    • ensuring that any legal requirements relating to the operation of the department are fully complied with, including (but not limited to):
      • inspection of all fire-fighting equipment
      • safe use of electrical switches and circuits
      • maintenance of all appropriate registers
      • necessary safety training for staff
      • statutory inspections of plant and equipment
      • provision of first-aid equipment
      • accident investigation
      • arrangements for cleaning
    • ensuring that any responsibilities delegated to subordinate staff are clearly identified
    • ensuring that access to the premises by customers or other members of the general public is strictly limited to safe areas
    • ensuring that suitable arrangements are in place to safeguard the premises against intruders.

    Employees’ responsibilities are as follows.

    • Employees are responsible for their own acts or omissions and the effect that these may have upon the safety of themselves or any other person.
    • Every employee must use safety equipment or clothing in a proper manner and for the purpose intended.
    • Any employee who intentionally or recklessly misuses anything supplied in the interests of health and safety will be subject to disciplinary procedures.
    • Every employee must work in accordance with any health and safety instruction or training that has been given.
    • No employees may undertake any task for which they have not been authorised and for which they are not adequately trained.
    • Every employee is required to bring to the attention of a responsible person any perceived shortcoming in our safety arrangements.
    • All employees are under a duty to familiarise themselves with this policy.

    Arrangements for implementation

    The arrangements section of the health and safety policy document should state how the organisation, through the responsibilities of the people identified in the organisation section, will carry out the general intentions given in the statement.

    Arrangements and procedures will control the significant risks identified in the risk assessments, which can involve any combination of:

    • inspection
    • maintenance
    • operating procedures
    • training, supervision or monitoring procedures.

    In addition, if relevant to the business activity, it is good practice to include issues related to product liability, consumer safety and environmental responsibilities, for example, in the arrangements part of the policy.

    Typical risks that may need to have subsections within the arrangements section stating the measures to control them include:

    • biological or chemical agents
    • compressed air or gases
    • confined spaces
    • contractors
    • electricity and electrical equipment (particularly electrical equipment testing)
    • explosions (eg from chemicals or dust)
    • falls from height
    • fire and other emergencies
    • manual handling (includes pushing and pulling as well as lifting and carrying)
    • operation of vehicles
    • use of machines and moving plant.

    Consider also the health and safety of non-employees who may be affected by the employer’s business activities, eg by including “Guidance to Visitors” and “Rules for Contractors” sections.

    For companies with more than three levels of management, it is not effective to include all health and safety arrangements in one document. Rather, references to the other documents should be made. Health and safety documents relevant to specific tasks should be made available locally to those employees carrying out the tasks.

    Communicating the Policy

    A well drafted policy cannot be effective unless its existence is known by everyone in the organisation.


    The health and safety policy forms one of the documents that comprise the management system of the organisation. From this aspect, it is important that it fits in with other components in terms of format and style. Another consideration is that the document actually needs to be read by those who are expected to use it. If the style is too formal or informal then it will not be accepted by the users and will be useless.

    A formal style may be appropriate for a larger organisation where less formal local documents may be in more frequent usage. In writing a policy in a less formal style, rather than using “we” and “our company”, the aims of the organisation can often be stated as the actual aspirations of the person signing it. This brings an immediacy and currency to the policy that can greatly enhance its acceptance and its effectiveness.

    Writing the statement in the first person singular (ie using “I”) can give a more meaningful feel and reality to the statement.

    Minimum requirements

    The minimum that must be communicated to all employees is the statement of intent. If it is contained on a single page, it will allow wide distribution and readability. However, it is important that this is not considered to be all of the “policy” as it must also include the organisation and arrangements sections. These should be referred to and made available to access.

    Review and Revision

    A convenient period for review is every 12 months, along with a review of other indicators of business performance, as is widespread business practice. A review may be sufficient and no revisions will be needed if there have not been any significant changes in personnel, business operation or relevant law/guidance/standards.

    In order to carry out a review, the organisation will need to get feedback from all of those managing safety.

    During the review process, any unionised or elected safety representatives should be consulted and their views taken into account. Where there are no safety representatives, the workforce should be consulted directly.

    When reviewing the organisation of the policy, consider:

    • the adequacy of the policy and strategy specified in connection with the health and risk management system
    • the relevance of the strategic objectives and of the necessary measures in the operational area
    • issues of compliance with statutory requirements
    • any problems reported by any person who has been assigned safety responsibilities and has experienced difficulties carrying them out
    • whether reassignment of responsibilities to different staff levels to ensure more effective and efficient management of safety responsibilities is required (eg delegating trivial matters down the organisation, or relieving employees from monitoring procedures which they have no authority to correct)
    • whether the skills base of management is comparable to that required to carry out their assigned safety responsibilities
    • whether individual safety performance should be fed back to management via the appraisal system
    • whether the lines of communication are effective, eg if any matters of concern for the safety committee have not been attended to because they have not reached the right management level
    • how safety representatives/employees will be consulted about the review.

    The review must indicate whether any action needs to be taken to improve the system as the basis for improvement. The result is a dynamic approach to the management of health and safety.

    Dating any revisions indicates to employees, customers and enforcers that there has been a review or a revision. The dated signature of a senior person makes it clear that the operation and effectiveness of the policy have been reconsidered, so it should be signed after each review, whether or not there has been any necessity for revision.

    Employees must be informed of the changes and receive as much information, instruction and training in them as may be necessary to avoid risks to health and safety.


    Adequate training must be provided to all employees where this is required to ensure their own health and safety or the health and safety of others who may be affected by the undertakings of the organisation. Where an employee is deemed at the outset to be competent to perform the tasks assigned to him or her, there might be no need for further training.

    Training should be given to those who:

    • advise on the content and format of the health and safety policy
    • devise organisational structures and arrangements contained in, or referred to by, the policy, such as HR personnel
    • participate in the consultation process
    • monitor compliance with the policy
    • have day-to-day responsibility for the operation of the health and safety management system.

    Any training should include the:

    • importance of the health and safety policy
    • strategies for the organisation as a whole and for each individual employee
    • relevance of the tasks, and responsibility assigned to employees
    • potential and real consequences of employees’ behaviour for their own health and safety and that of others, and the safety of plant and equipment.

    List of Relevant Legislation

    Further Information


    HSE Publications

    The following are available from HSE Books.