Your Health & Safety Handbook should be the go-to safety document for your team.

It should act as a synopsis of your Health & Safety Policy, outlining all the necessary information your employees need to carry out their role safely, reducing risk to themselves and others.

Ultimately, making sure that employees understand your health and safety rules and procedures will provide a firm basis for health and safety management, thereby ensuring you are compliant and reducing financial and reputational risk.

So where do you start when it comes to creating a Health & Safety Handbook for employees? And why does your business need one? Here’s everything you need to know.

Why do I need a Health & Safety Handbook?

In order for you to meet your legal duties under health and safety legislation, employees must meet theirs.

Often, employers assume that they are solely responsible for ensuring their workplace is safe and compliant. However, Section 7 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 places a legal duty on employers to:

  • Co-operate with management in all matters concerning the health, safety and welfare.
  • Take reasonable care their own health, safety and welfare, as well as that of any other person who may be affected by their acts or omissions whilst at work.

Your Health & Safety Handbook will help to make these duties clear and ensure that everyone within your organisation understands the role they play in creating a healthy and safe working environment. It will explain to employees what is expected of them, and help them to fulfil their Section 7 duties by providing information on safe working practices and what to do should an incident occur.

Is it a legal requirement to have a Health & Safety Handbook?

As an employer, you have a duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of your employees and anyone else who might be affected by your activities. In doing so, you’re legally required to:

  • Have a Health & Safety Policy that sets out your organisation’s health and safety objectives, responsibilities and arrangements;
  • Ensure all employees are aware of and understand this policy; and
  • Provide whatever information, instruction and training is needed to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of your employees. 

While there is no specific legal requirement to have a Health & Safety Handbook, doing so will enable you to fulfil the legal duties set out above. It is an effective way of communicating your Health & Safety Policy to staff and provides fundamental health and safety information, including the important rules and procedures for employees to follow.

In this way, it will help you to demonstrate your commitment to health and safety and show that you have actively engaged employees in health and safety management.

What should a Health & Safety Handbook contain?

Your Health & Safety Handbook should help employees to understand how health and safety is managed in your workplace. It should therefore set out, in detail, employees’ duties and the general safety rules they must follow. You may also wish to include specific information about particular working practices and how specific tasks tasks should be carried out.

Depending on your business activities, your Health & Safety Handbook may include information on:

  • General personal safety;
  • Your accident or incident reporting procedures;
  • Your first aid arrangements;
  • Your fire and emergency procedures;
  • Manual handling aids and techniques;
  • The use of display screen equipment;
  • Electrical safety;
  • Storing and handling hazardous substances;
  • Advice on work-related stress;
  • Using personal protective equipment (PPE);
  • Working at height;
  • Your alcohol, drugs and smoking policy;
  • Safe driving and use of mobile phones;
  • Arrangements for vulnerable workers, such as young people or expectant mothers;
  • The safe use of machinery and equipment; and
  • Occupational health provisions.

Keep language clear and simple language to aid understanding.

Upon receipt of your Health & Safety Handbook, employees must make themselves familiar with its contents, and you should explain who they can contact if they are unclear about any aspects of the document so that the issue can be clarified.

It’s a good idea to get employees to sign a statement to show that they have read and understood your Health & Safety Handbook and accept the rules contained therein.

Your Health & Safety Handbook is a living document; you should encourage all employees to inform management of any areas of your Health & Safety Handbook or Health & Safety Policy that they feel are inadequate or misrepresented, or where practices and procedures have changed, to ensure they are maintained as valid working documents. Copies of any amendments should be circulated to all employees for inclusion with their handbook.

Policy v Handbook

It’s important to distinguish between a Health & Safety Policy and Health & Safety Handbook – though often combined, they are not the same.

Your Health & Safety Policy should set out your general approach and commitment to creating a healthy and safe working environment, together with the arrangements you have put in place for managing health and safety in your business. It is a unique document that states who does what, when and how. Your Health & Safety Handbook should make this information easily accessible to employees.

Current opinion is that policies should be short and refer to the handbook for more in-depth information on specific practices and procedures.

Who should write your Health & Safety Handbook?

You can put together your own handbook or have one created by an external health and safety company.

Importantly, under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employers must have access to support from a competent person – somebody with ‘sufficient training and experience or knowledge and other qualities’ – to help them to meet the requirements of health and safety legislation.

In other words, the person responsible for producing your Health & Safety Handbook should:

  • Have had relevant training, such as a course accredited by IOSH;
  • Have practical knowledge and experience of managing health and safety; and
  • Have the appropriate skills and technical ability to develop solutions to problems.

Based on the level of expertise of our consultants, Ellis Whittam will act as your competent person for all health and safety matters, and can expertly create a Health & Safety Policy and accompanying Health & Safety Handbook tailored to your organisation.

Looking for an expertly-crafted Health & Safety Handbook?

Handbooks are important – not least because they help communicate health and safety matters, which is essential to avoiding fines, enforcement and prosecution.

If you don’t feel sufficiently competent to create a Health & Safety Handbook yourself, Ellis Whittam can put one for you as part of our unlimited, fixed-fee Health & Safety service. This gives you access to a dedicated Health & Safety Consultant with a wealth of hands-on experience, outstanding relevant qualifications and specific industry expertise. Your consultant will provide practical support with everything from preparing handbooks, policies and procedures to risk assessments and liaising with regulators.

For more information on how Ellis Whittam can take the pressure off health and safety and elevate your current practices, call 0345 226 8393..