Health and safety is a top priority for many businesses. The law dictates that they should provide every employee with a safe working environment, and if they are found to be negligent, they stand to suffer considerable damage to their reputation and finances. Many companies therefore employ a health and safety officer to oversee requirements and carry out important tasks.
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Appointing a health and safety officer is important for businesses in two ways. First, it gives them peace of mind in knowing their health and safety requirements are being met; that is, employees are being trained in how to avoid risks, and the workplace is a safe environment. Additionally, it allows higher management to focus on other business targets, such as maximising profits, reducing costs and heightening the productivity of their workforce.
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In 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed in the United States. This important piece of legislation protects employees from being at risk of injury or accident in the workplace by instructing companies to take action in reducing workplace hazards. This is not limited purely to reducing the number of hazards that could be harmful to an employee's physical health. Employers are also bound by law to consider and protect their employees from the mental and emotional effects of the workplace, such as stress.
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A health and safety officer provides employees and employers with a single point of contact to whom they can go if they have a query or concern regarding the safety of the workplace. The health and safety officer's primary function is to ensure a safe working environment for all staff, and so should always be fully up-to-date on the latest laws, regulations and safety advice. He or she can then dispense this knowledge to others through training, making sure every staff member is aware of potential risks and appropriate mitigating steps.
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The health and safety officer acts as an adviser to management on the latest legal obligations, ensuring the standard of safety is up to the latest regulatory standards. The officer also imparts advice to others through training and discussion, as well as creating company policies that deal with health and safety, such as evacuation procedures. A health and safety officer will also regulate the safety of the workplace, carrying out regular audits to ensure all hazards are minimised or removed. Another function of a health and safety officer is to investigate any accidents and incidents, identifying why the issue arose and taking steps to ensure it does not arise again.
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There are a number of possible consequences to not having a health and safety officer, many of them serious. If an employee suffers injury or distress as a direct result of the workplace, the company may be found negligent. This would result in extensive damage to the company's reputation, as well as possibly leading to compensation claims and/or hefty fines, which can be crippling for many small businesses.