I noticed recently that a Post Office video for Claims Direct was promoting their ability to pursue compensation claims. It asked, “Has an accident at work caused time off or hospital treatment? Let us get you the compensation you deserve. Teams of specialists are waiting for your call on free-phone 0800… Mary Wallace received £8,000. John Bloom got £5,700. Our service is free to genuine victims.”

Such tactics are fairly common. The Times and the Daily Mail recently carried full page adverts from the Accident Group promoting “Injury – first aid: compensation – second aid.”

In the light of such incitement, how can employers protect themselves from unjustified claims? Part of the answer lies in robust health and safety documentation. If you run your business with scant regard to legal duties, you are clearly taking a large risk. In the event of an accident, your insurers will pay in the first instance. However, premiums will rise commensurately, you will attract adverse publicity and may also be prosecuted. Even where you operate good health and safety practices, you must be able to prove it.

You will need to provide your insurers with demonstrable evidence that you have not been negligent. In this respect there is strong similarity with the need for proper personnel procedures when defending unfair dismissal claims. In both instances, written evidence is vital. It has several benefits: it doesn’t rely on memory, it is hard to dispute and it is clear.

Bedrock policy

The first item you will be asked to produce is a copy of your health and safety policy statement. For some companies this remains the two paragraphs that they typed and displayed on the notice board when the Health & Safety at Work (etc) Act became law. Over recent years, there has been a host of new legislation that has fundamentally changed the approach to safety at work. These changes need to be reflected in detailed policies that not only set out a company’s commitment to meeting its legal obligations but also the means by which this is achieved and who is responsible for ensuring it happens.

Given that the policy is the bedrock upon which to base all other health and safety management, it is not surprising that modern policy statements can run to 20 pages. The table on this page shows a sample index of the topics to include.

Hazardous substances

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health regulations (COSHH) require that you assess the hazards arising from the substances in your workplace and manage their use to minimise any harmful effects. The first step is to obtain manufacturers’ data sheets that state the hazards and provide advice on appropriate precautions.

Information from these sheets should be summarised onto your own hazard control sheets that contain an assessment of how you actually use the product. The control sheets should include issues such as how the substance is received; how much you use; how it is stored; whether it is harmful, corrosive or toxic; protective clothing; and first aid. As original data sheets often run to several pages, these one-page summaries, with a consistent layout, make it easier for first aiders to locate information quickly.


The largest change in safety management has been the introduction of the concept of ‘risk assessment’. It started with the COSHH regulations but the principle spread rapidly and now we are required to undertake assessments of every aspect of work operations. It is true that the Health and Safety Executive do not necessarily expect you to write down assessments for minor risks, but unfortunately the lawyers do.

A typical laundry will require more than 90 risk assessments. They will include all the workplace issues such as floors, lighting, steps, toilets, heat, noise, and so on; all the services, steam, electricity, welding; lifting and carrying; processing equipment; and fire, pregnancy and young workers. Assessments need to consider how often, how severe and how likely all the various hazards are to occur. Allocation of a numerical risk rating to each hazard gives management a clear guide to those activities needing extra vigilance. As risk assessment is such a key component of health and safety management, copies of competent assessments are essential defence documents.

Duty to train

Specific health and safety training, as distinct from task training, is a duty imposed in all health and safety legislation. The assessment process described above will highlight those areas where such training must be provided.

As well as specific matters relating to your equipment and processes, you will also need to cover all basic areas such as lifting, electricity, slips and trips, computer usage and driving. While you may think that someone should already know that they should not touch hot presses, you still need to tell them and to be able to prove you have done so. Indeed, my newspaper recently contained an article about a woodwork teacher who received a £200,000 payout because of exposure to sawdust!

An easy and effective way to give such training is by using simple, one page, training modules stating the essential information. The employee reads the modules and asks their supervisor any questions on aspects they don’t understand. The whole process for say 20 modules need only take half-an-hour.

By way of a simple example, a module for “Counting and sorting soiled work” may include the following advice: take care to avoid glass and sharp objects; keep cuts covered with a plaster; sort sacks from the table, not the floor; sweep the floor regularly and put any waste into a bin; take care not to trip when transferring linen to sorting bins; wash hands before eating. These simple statements are providing elementary health and safety training on avoidance of cuts, musculo-skeletal issues, infection from vermin and slips and trips.

Keep a record

Once the training has been provided, you should make and keep a record. The records must show the content, the date the training was given, the name of the trainer and the name of the recipient. Retention of such records in the employee’s personnel file will ensure that the company can prove, if required, that the employee received instruction in safe working methods. Repetition of the training modules and further records will reinforce your position as a safety conscious employer.

Safe systems of work

“Safe systems of work” is a phrase, in H&S parlance, that describes a written sequence of actions that need to be undertaken to ensure that a particularly dangerous activity is safely accomplished. Types of activity in laundries that require a safe system of work include: entry to caged areas; ironer clothing changes; entering a batch washer; boiler servicing; change of press membranes; and high-level work on bag loop systems.

  As with the training modules, those employees required to carry out safe systems should read them and suitable records kept. As the procedures will be detailed, copies should be available for constant reference while the work is underway.

Review dates

An essential element of health and safety documentation is keeping it up to date. This is a legal duty. Nothing is constant: employees leave or change roles; new equipment, procedures or chemicals are introduced; the company may move to a new site. For these reasons you are required to undertake regular reviews and include the findings in your documentation.

The interval between the reviews should reflect the complexity of your workplace. The normal period for a laundry or drycleaning operation is 12 or 15 months; an office, 24 months. It is a useful prompt to state the proposed review date on all documentation. Many companies find it helpful to place a sheet for notes at the back of the various sections in their manuals. These can be used to jot down any ideas of issues, as they occur, to ensure that they are not forgotten by the review date.

Software constrictions

Proprietary software often claims to provide a complete health and safety system for your business. In my experience, such packages are too constrictive, without the flexibility of design to meet your needs. They are often complicated and only of use to someone who constantly uses the program. Computers are essential for orderly health and safety documentation. A program such as MSWord will enable updates without needing specialist skill.

In summary, it is worth spending time preparing a detailed policy. Focus on the control measures set out in your risk assessments and use them to prepare simple training modules. Identify any particularly hazardous procedures and document them in safe systems of work. Prepare and complete training record cards for each employee. By investing in sound health and safety documentation and procedures you will create a safer workplace and thwart the cheats.