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Health and safety at work: The benefits of technology

Health and safety at work: The benefits of technology

All employers have a legal duty of care when it comes to the health and safety of their employees.

Therefore, it is important to think about your health and safety policies as often as possible, along with what you can do to enhance them.

As World Day for Health and Safety at Work highlighted on 28 April, businesses must adapt to the expectations of new generations entering workforces across the country.

So, where does technology come into this?

Better visibility

Employing digital tools can help boost visibility and productivity, both of which are essential for growth and success.

For instance, a virtual platform that allows employees to report and record incidents, request assistance, and notify those who need to know about the problem could be highly beneficial.

The use of technology will also help track the journey to resolution by leaving a data trail.

Not only will incidents be seen and dealt with promptly, but employers will be able to assess and develop their health and safety protocols to avoid problems in the future.

Innovative PPE

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has come a long way in recent years.

These days, it is no longer just about helmets and high-vis clothing, but also technology and digital equipment.

Smart PPE comprises wrist bands to observe vital signals and environmental factors, anti-dozing collars for drivers, and location devices that send out alert calls in the event of risk or harm.

These wearable pieces of equipment are highly advantageous, connecting to the internet or Bluetooth to collect data and deliver safety information.

Portable health and safety training

Firms are using Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) technology to train their staff much more frequently than they have done previously.

To onboard workers remotely and rapidly, as well as retain current talent, training should be accessible and digestible.

If employees can access training on devices such as a smartphone, they can easily consume the information and return to it whenever and wherever they choose.

Employers must stay ahead of the curve as much as possible, keeping on top of health and safety as a top priority, and ensuring potential legal disputes are avoided.

Jeremy Sirrell, a Director at Palmers and a Health and Safety advisor, said: “Ensuring you have the right tools in place for your employees to remain safe in the workplace is vital, and keeping them updated is necessary.

If you need help looking over your current policies to see what might need amending and revising, get specialist advice at the earliest convenience.”

For help and guidance on all aspects of Health and Safety Law, please contact our expert team today.

Construction companies: A reminder of health and safety obligations

Construction companies: A reminder of health and safety obligations

Recently a few construction and engineering-based projects have been in the news as some workers involved suffered from work-related injuries.

Tunnellers were trapped by a fire while working on HS2 in Chilterns. Two workers became injured, one critically and both remain in the hospital during a collapse of a steel frame at an Ardmore site in London. And the Network Rail received a £1.4 million fine after its workers sustained life-changing injuries.

What is the Health and Safety legislation?

Since 1974, the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 (HSWA) has been in place to put legal responsibility on all employers “to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety, and welfare at work” for all their employees and people working on their sites.

To encourage ‘Successful Health and Safety Management’, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) released guidance which consisted of its slogan ‘Plan, Do, Check, Act’. This motto promotes the need for construction bosses to think out their projects and consider any risk factors.

What other legislations must construction bosses consider?

When planning and performing any work, some other laws must be considered, such as the following:

  • The Building Act 1984 – “secure the health, safety, welfare, and convenience of persons in or about buildings and others who may be affected by buildings or matters connected with buildings”.
  • The Construction Design and Management Regulations 2015 – read about it here.
  • The Construction (Head Protection) Regulations 1989
  • The Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996
  • The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases, and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013

Additionally, now that the UK has left the EU, many UK legislations now no longer need to follow EU law and have therefore experienced changes.

Jeremy Sirrell, a Director at Palmers and a Health and Safety advisor, said: “Before starting projects, construction and engineering companies must ensure they have Health and Safety procedures in place to avoid any accidents and injuries.

“If you are concerned about your business’ safety obligations, then it is important that you seek specialist advice at the earliest convenience.”

For help and guidance on all aspects of Health and Safety Law, including putting in place strategies to protect your workforce, please contact our expert team today.

Protecting staff from COVID-19 and supporting them over vaccinations

Protecting staff from COVID-19 and supporting them over vaccinations

With the lifting of most COVID-19 restrictions in England, many employers have been encouraging staff to return to the office.

Many will also be considering whether they should impose a mandatory vaccination policy on staff members and what are the potential legal pitfalls of doing so. If members of staff contract COVID-19 at work, could the employer be found liable and sued?

Although most restrictions have been lifted, employers still have a duty of care to look after their staff’s health.

During the height of the pandemic Government guidance was for employers to put in place all necessary health and safety measures like sanitisers, PPE where required, screens at workstations and working from home arrangements. Many employers still have these measures are still in place.

So for staff members to prove they caught COVID-19 at the workplace might be difficult, as they could have picked it up at home or travelling to their place of work. For an employee to sue the employer they must prove that some form of negligence occurred on the employers’ part.

As far as introducing mandatory vaccination to protect staff, before making any decision, employers may find it useful to talk with their staff about the vaccine and share the benefits of being vaccinated.

Guidance from Acas, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, says employers should include recognised trade union or staff representatives in any discussions.

It could help to discuss things like:

  • The Government’s latest vaccine health information
  • How staff can access the vaccine
  • If staff will need time off work to get vaccinated
  • Pay for time off work related to the vaccine
  • Whether the employer plans to collect data on staff vaccinations, and if so, how this will follow data protection law (UK GDPR)

To encourage staff to get the vaccine, employers might consider:

  • Sharing government vaccine health information with staff
  • Offering paid time off for vaccination appointments
  • Paying staff their usual rate of pay if they’re off sick with vaccine side effects, instead of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)
  • Not counting vaccine-related absences in absence records or towards any ‘trigger’ system the organisation may have

Talking with staff can help to:

  • Agree a vaccine policy that’s appropriate for both staff and the organisation
  • Support staff to protect their health
  • Keep good working relationships and avoid disputes in the future

Samantha Randall, an Employment Law expert at Palmers, said: “Any decision after that discussion should be put in writing, for example in a workplace policy. It must also be in line with the organisation’s existing disciplinary and grievance policy and follow discrimination law.

“Employers should be sensitive towards personal situations and must keep any concerns confidential. They must be careful to avoid discrimination.”

Buying a business – Top tips to secure the best deal

Buying a business – Top tips to secure the best deal

Have you ever considered buying a business? Whether you are an experienced entrepreneur or just starting out, acquiring a ‘ready-made’ business offers a number of advantages.

For established businesses, an acquisition can help them break into new markets or acquire machinery, skilled workers or innovations or simply remove competition that can help their operations grow more quickly.

Meanwhile, new entrepreneurs can acquire a ‘turn-key’ business that is already generating cashflow or alternatively requires relatively minimal work to start generating profits compared to starting from ground zero.

However, the process of buying a business is not without risks, especially at the deal-making stage. Here, BJ Chong, a Director with Palmers Solicitors, has put together some quick tips to help. 

Research, research, research 

Before even approaching another business do as much background research as you can.

Find out exactly who owns it, look into its previous accounts, what it owns, the order book, what it needs to operate, debts and obligations, premise liabilities and even speak to its suppliers – don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Once you make that initial contact with a seller you will need to obtain as much information as you can from them.

Check to see whether they have recent management accounts you can check and find out if the company has any debts or obligations that alter the value of the deal.

Some owners may be selling for retirement, others may think that a new owner could help the business grow, while some may have concerns about the business and are seeking a quick exit. Learning more about the reasons for a sale could alert you to issues within the business and also enable you to price the deal accordingly.

Be honest 

You should also be honest with yourself and ask whether the deal is suited to your needs and whether any issues can be feasibly and quickly fixed.

It sounds a bit clichéd but try to make decisions with your head, not your heart. If you are unsure, why not ask a trusted friend or professional adviser for their independent opinion? 

Draw up heads of terms 

If you are serious about purchasing a business create a heads of terms agreement. This should set out the points that have been agreed in principle between parties during the course of negotiations.

Heads of terms provide serious intent and have moral force, but do not commonly legally bind the parties to conclude the deal on those terms or even at all.

Despite this, they are a great first step in setting out the intended purpose of the transaction and the aims of each party. 

Make sure you have access to sufficient finance 

Once the basic terms of the sale have been agreed you will need to ensure that you have sufficient funding to cover the costs of the transaction.

Few business owners fund the whole of a sale out of their existing personal or business funds.

Instead, many seek out a loan or investment that allows them to access the funds they need.

Of course, this requires lenders and/or investors to sign off the investment in the new business, which can be challenging and take time.  Expect to be asked for a business plan.

Entrepreneurs should factor this process into the timeline for their transaction and ensure they have the funds they need to complete it. 

Depending upon the circumstances, you may even be able to negotiate deferment of part of the sales price or vendor financing. 

Don’t be afraid to walk away at any stage

Possibly one of the most important tips is to walk away if the deal isn’t right. Transactions have been known to fail at the last second, perhaps after due diligence uncovers an unexpected issue.

Until a legally binding contract is entered into, a deal can always be cancelled or, in some cases, renegotiated.

Ask for help 

If you haven’t bought a business before, or even if you are an experienced entrepreneur, it pays to seek out help from a professional.

For advice and support, please get in touch with our expert team.

Minimum wage non-payment excuses ‘outrageous’

Minimum wage non-payment excuses ‘outrageous’

The National Minimum Wage has been in place for more than two decades. It currently stands at £8.91 per hour for adults over the age of 23 (The National Living Wage), while the lowest figure is £4.30 per hour for an apprentice.

While a sizeable number of breaches will be down to errors or incorrect interpretation of the rules, a few unscrupulous employers are abusing it and have come up with some dubious excuses for not paying what is a legal requirement.

HMRC has published some outrageous excuses for not paying:

  • She does not deserve the National Minimum Wage because she only makes the teas and sweeps the floors.
  • The employee was not a good worker, so I did not think they deserved to be paid the National Minimum Wage.
  • My accountant and I speak a different language – he does not understand me, and that is why he does not pay my workers the correct wages.
  • My employee is still learning so they are not entitled to the National Minimum Wage.
  • It is part of UK culture not to pay young workers for the first three months as they have to prove their ‘worth’ first.
  • The National Minimum Wage does not apply to my business.
  • I have got an agreement with my workers that I will not pay them the National Minimum Wage; they understand, and they even signed a contract to this effect.
  • My workers like to think of themselves as being self-employed and the National Minimum Wage does not apply to people who work for themselves.

Samantha Randall an Associate Solicitor with Palmers, who specialises in employment law, said: “HMRC are becoming ever more litigious and employers should be left in no doubt that they will take action if they are found to be underpaying their workers.”

HMRC says it has issued more than £14 million in penalties to employers who failed to pay the correct rate of the National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage in the 2020/2021 tax year.

More than £16 million in unpaid salaries was also recovered which should have been paid to more than 155,000 workers across the UK.

For help and advice on all aspects of employment law, please contact us.

Bereaved families “cut off” from digital assets

Bereaved families “cut off” from digital assets

Families often find it hard or impossible to access the digital assets of loved ones after they die, a major study has revealed.

The research, published in collaboration with the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) and Queen Mary University of London, recommends “urgent reforms” to help executors access the online accounts required to complete estate administration.

According to the report, families are often “cut off” from digital assets, such as social media accounts, cloud storage, cryptocurrency wallets, and emails, when loved ones die or become incapacitated – causing significant “distress” and “frustration” during estate administration.

The survey of 500 professional inheritance advisors found that 60 per cent have dealt with questions from clients about digital assets, while 25 per cent have had clients who have experienced difficulties accessing digital assets of a family member.

But with digital assets becoming an increasingly common part of estate planning and administration, advisors expect queries to increase to 90 per cent in the near future.

The most common queries related to the ‘big five’ digital platforms, Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Dropbox, with one in five clients citing difficulties with uncooperative service providers in situations where accounts cannot be accessed.

Commenting on the survey, author Dave Michels said legislators “must put in place much clearer rules on property rights and rights of access by personal representatives”.

“Digital assets can have great sentimental value, so it’s important that people have legal certainty as to what they can pass on after death. I know I’d want my wife to access our family photos stored in my iCloud account, after I die,” he said.

Donna Smy, a Director with Palmers Solicitors, who specialises in Wills, Probate and Estate Administration, said: “Digital assets have gained increasing importance in recent years. They can include obtaining access to sentimental images such as online photos and other social media content but also more sensitive and confidential information such as emails, passwords, medical and financial records and even Bitcoin investments.

“It is therefore important to consider how you wish your digital assets to be handled after your death and to leave instructions in your Will, with provision for gaining the appropriate access to your records.”

For help and advice on all aspects of making a Will, please get in touch with us.