Guidance Note 13 – Health and safety policy and management systems

This Guidance Note gives practical information regarding basic health and safety policies and management systems as is targeted at SMEs with over five employees. Any suggested wording for a policy or arrangement should not be copied verbatim but should reflect the policies and arrangements of your company, which should be relevant to the size and nature of your undertaking.

Download Guidance Note

What is a health and safety policy and management system?

A health and safety policy is a description of your Company’s commitment to managing the health and safety of staff and others affected by its work activities. It is the central document upon which your health and safety management system is developed. The policy does not need to be complicated or time-consuming, but should be specific to your Company and clearly say how the Company intends to manage health and safety, whom is responsible for what, and what the Company’s arrangements are.

Why do I need a health and safety policy?

Section 2(3) of the Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 states:

“Except in such cases as may be prescribed, it shall be the duty of every employer to prepare and as often as may be appropriate revise a written statement of his general policy with respect to the health and safety at work of his employees and the organisation and arrangements for the time being in force for carrying out that policy”.

If your Company has less than five employees, you do not legally need to have a written health and safety policy. However, it is best practice to do so and may be beneficial when submitting tenders and seeking new contracts. This Guidance Note provides you with advice regarding what should be in such a policy. If you feel that this is not for you, you may benefit from viewing Guidance Note 41 and discussing with your auditor.

If you have five or more employees you must comply with Section 2(3) of the Act, by having a written health and safety policy. This usually consists of:

In addition, you must:

What is a general statement of intent?

This is a brief statement, in simple terms, of your Company’s general aims for ensuring the health and safety of your employees and others affected by your Company’s activities. The statement is usually around a page in length and should be signed and dated by one or more members of senior management within the Company to demonstrate commitment from the top and that health and safety management is taken seriously. Please note: A policy submitted for assessment that does not include an actual signature will not be accepted.

The following types of information should be considered for inclusion in this section:

What is an organisation and responsibilities section?

Overall responsibility for health and safety rests firmly with the highest management within a Company (i.e. proprietors, directors etc.). However, ALL individuals within the workforce have to accept a certain duty for health and safety towards themselves and others who might be affected by their acts or omissions.

This section of the health and safety policy should lay out the management channels organised by the Company to implement the policy. Whenever possible, key individuals or their job titles should be named and their responsibilities defined (often a “top-down” diagram is used to chart the organisation). In small businesses, however, it is often one person alone who will take responsibility for co-ordinating health and safety and therefore this section needs to be appropriate to the size of your Company. You should include whatever individuals or job titles as are appropriate for your company. Examples are provided below:

Key responsibilities for a Head of the Company or Managing Director could include:

Key responsibilities for a health and safety coordinator/representative could include:

Key responsibilities for employees could include:

What is an arrangements section/procedural documents?

The arrangements section of your Company’s health and safety policy should outline how it will meet the commitments made in the statement of intent. This may be a distinct section within the policy document or an index of separate procedures. Whichever way the safety management system is structured, the arrangements / procedures should describe the systems and processes in place for complying with the various legislative requirements that apply to your business. It should also detail how your Company will ensure employee health and safety by eliminating or reducing, so far as is reasonably practicable, the risks posed by the hazards in your workplace.

Key topics that should be included in this section are detailed below with suggestions as to the information which should be detailed therein. You should ensure that the information you add accurately describes how your company manages the topic and be proportionate to the size of your undertaking. Please note: this list is not intended to be exhaustive and additional arrangements relevant to your Company undertakings may also be included.

Risk assessment

This could include stating:

Staff consultation

This could include stating:


This could include stating:

Fire and emergencies

This could include stating:

First aid

This could include stating:

Accident reporting and investigating

This could include stating:

Work equipment

This could include stating:

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

This could include stating:

The control of substances hazardous to health

This could include stating:

Asbestos management

This could include stating:

Manual Handling

This could include stating:

Welfare provision

This could include stating:


This could include stating:

Monitoring/ Audit/ Review

Remember – reviewing the policy helps keep it alive!

A revision might consist of simply checking that all areas of the policy are still relevant and then having it re-signed and dated by senior management.

You could include in this section: