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The small business approach

Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) make up the majority of businesses in the UK.1 Helping these businesses comply with the legislation is vital in improving health and safety outcomes as well as reducing unnecessary burdens placed on them. However, health and safety hazards in small businesses are not necessarily low risk hazards, and risks must still be managed whatever the size of the enterprise.

HSE recognises the importance of SMEs to Great Britain’s economy and one of the goals of HSE’s new strategy ‘The Health and Safety of Great Britain\\Be part of the solution’ is:

To adapt and customise approaches to help the increasing numbers of SMEs in different sectors comply with their health and safety obligations.

HSE working in partnership with local authorities now wants to find new ways to help SMEs understand how to comply with health and safety law in a manner proportionate to the risks posed by their work activities. To achieve this strategy goal, HSE has created a new Strategy Action Team (SAT) including representatives from LG Regulation (formerly LACORS) to coordinate activity across HSE and local authorities. A range of work to influence SMEs, including SME-proofing existing HSE and local authority guidance, is already in hand for 2009/10, and the SAT has developed a framework for delivery that establishes a coordinated and prioritised long-term approach. Local authorities are particularly well-placed to help deliver initiatives because of their ability to reach small businesses in their local communities.

HSE simplification initiatives

HSE remains committed to the Government’s “Think Small First” policy, ensuring that all guidance is written with small businesses in mind. HSE has targeted some publications specifically at SMEs to help them to comply with legislative requirements, such as the Example Risk Assessments. HSE also has additional sector specific short publications, designed to help employers working in these sectors manage specific health and safety risks as well as more general guidance.

HSE’s ‘Easier Access to Services’ (EASe) Programme looks at how different audiences come into contact with HSE, such as via HSE’s Incident Contact Centre for notification of RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations) incidents. The EASe Programme is focused around the recognition that government services should be designed around customer needs – including SMEs where needs can be different to those of large companies. The EASe Programme will improve the services themselves as well as the access and signposting to the relevant services. The project aims to re-design services to deliver the objectives in 2010.

Many of HSE’s recent simplification measures particularly benefit SMEs. For example, many of the example risk assessments have been created with small businesses in mind and in partnership with industry representatives. (see Developing example risk assessments).

Title/Policy Initiative Impact on small businesses
Sensible Risk Management - example risk assessments
Suite of 34 Example Risk Assessments aimed at low risk SMEs
The most recently published was on 1 September 2009.
Introduced during the second half of 2008.
Example Risk assessments act as a guide to help SMEs think through some of the hazards in their business and the steps they need to take to control the risks.
Available on
Health and Safety Policy Statement and Risk Assessment Template
Electronic template combining two policy documents into one combined and simpler version.
Introduced on 1 September 2009. This template brings together the risk assessment, health and safety policy and record of health and safety arrangements into one document. This will help businesses get started and will save them time. Available on
Removing the requirement for the majority of businesses to register with HSE From 6 April 2009, most businesses will no longer have to register their premises with HSE or local authorities
For more information, see

In order to ensure the correct approach for SMEs, HSE is committed to engaging with small businesses on a range of initiatives, including simplification projects. HSE has a Small Business Trade Association Forum (SBTAF), which represents the interests of 52 different trade associations, and also includes the Association of Charity Shops representing the Third Sector. HSE engages with this forum through e-consultation and meetings in the development of its simplification initiatives to ensure that they will make a difference to small businesses.

In addition, HSE disseminates completed simplification projects, such as example risk assessments and guidance, to the SBTAF members for them to pass on to their trade association members. This provides a communication channel to appropriate industries, helping to raise awareness and increase its impact.

Title/Policy Initiative Progress to date
Workplace Health Connect and Healthy Workplaces Milton Keynes
Two HSE SME-focused pilot projects, providing a telephone advice line and free advisory visits on request from SMEs.
Evaluations for both projects due October/November 2009.
Scottish Healthy Working Lives
The "Health Risks at Work, do you know yours?" toolkit funded by the Scottish Government and developed in conjunction with HSE
The toolkit was launched in September 2009. Consisting of a DVD and booklet, the toolkit is being delivered by face to face visits with SMEs
Small Sites Strategy (Construction)
Developing simplified pictorial guidance on roof work, welfare, and manual handling. To be delivered by HSE Health and Safety Awareness Officers on visits to small sites
To be delivered during 2009/10,

Wider Government initiatives

In March 2008, the Government published its Enterprise Strategy, Unlocking the UK’s talent, which sets out proposals designed to minimise the impact of regulations on small firms2. These proposals included exemptions for small businesses for new regulations. The Government is also committed to examining whether small firms can be exempted from new regulatory requirements or be subject to simplification of enforcement.

The scope to formally exempt small businesses from health and safety regulation may be limited. However, HSE will look at regulations that are due to be reviewed in the next few years, for example the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations, with a view to considering exemptions. Where this is not possible, HSE is fully committed to minimising the impact on small businesses by designing approaches that will clarify requirements and so make complying easier.

In August 2008, BRE published a report on Improving Outcomes in Health and Safety, which looked at the health and safety regulatory regime, particularly for lower risk small businesses. HSE carefully considered this report and recommendations, which recognised the impact that other players in the health and safety system, as well as HSE and its local authority partners, can have in realising improved health and safety outcomes for smaller and low risk businesses.

In response to some of the recommendations in this report HSE has already taken steps to improve its’ web-based guidance for small businesses, for example, HSE guidance publications are now available in versions that can be easily downloaded from the Internet free of charge.

The Anderson Review, January 2009, recommended that Government should explore the possibility of providing access for SMEs to a tailored, "insured advice" helpline (for employment law and health and safety law). HSE, in partnership with local authorities, is currently involved with a Government pilot scheme to understand the barriers to take-up of insured advice and explore the effectiveness of different mechanisms for removing these barriers within the current market place.

1 Currently there are around 4.7 million SMEs, with 1.3 million of them employing nearly half the workforce. SMEs are present in all industry sectors including those associated with the highest risk of injury/ill-health. Two-thirds of SMEs fall within the LA enforced sectors. Source

2 For the purposes of exemptions, small firms are defined as being those with fewer than 20 full time equivalent staff.

Updated 2015-05-26