16th June, 2021

Should Health And Safety Documents Be Signed?

Creating health and safety documents is something most businesses will do. In fact, in many cases, they are a legal requirement. But should they be signed, and if so, by who, and when? In this post, we look at the reasons behind signing health and safety documents.

Should Health And Safety Documents Be Signed? header image

You have probably signed many documents in your lifetime. Your employment contract, your passport, cheques, delivery notes, bank cards - they all require a signature. But what about health and safety documents? When would you sign those? And why?

The most common type of document that needs a signature is a contract. A contract is an agreement, and both people (or groups) involved in the agreement will sign the contract to confirm that they agree to its contents.

a legal document that states and explains a formal agreement between two different people or groups [...]

While health and safety documents are not contracts exactly, they are documents that need agreement. If your risk assessment says that a specific item of PPE needs wearing during an activity, the worker needs to agree to wear it. So what does the law say?

Many health and safety documents are legally required - for example, your risk assessments and your health and safety policy. Other health and safety documents like method statements and toolbox talks might not specifically be required by law, but they can help you comply with legal requirements.

And what about having them signed? Well, it's not necessarily a legal requirement to have documents signed. The law doesn't say you have to do it. But it can be the best practice. Because if a document is signed, it shows that person has received, read, understood and agrees with it. And the law does require that you provide relevant health and safety information.

Just having a document doesn't mean you a complying with the law. After all, what use is a document that no one has read? Just leaving documents on your desk or computer system and not sharing them with your team isn't providing information. And if it doesn't contain the correct information for the project, does it help reduce risk?

Getting your team to sign a document shows that they have had a chance to read it. If it gets signed by the person carrying out the task, they understand the rules and controls needed. And that they had the opportunity to ask questions and raise any concerns. You have a record of their acknowledgement. If a document gets signed by senior management, it gives it authenticity. It means that they agree and authorise the health and safety arrangements. And you have a record of that authorisation.

person reading a document

And by signing and dating documents, you know when someone reviewed or read it. Dating signatures is useful. For example, on toolbox talk records or induction forms, you know who attended and when.

So it's good practice to get your documents signed. But this doesn't mean that every member of staff needs to sign every health and safety document. For example, someone that never works in or around confined spaces wouldn't need to know about the confined space risk assessment. They don't need to sign a confined space permit. Or sign the method statement for working in a confined space. It just doesn't apply to them.

And the law doesn't require you to get every document signed by every employee. The law requires that you provide information and instruction to ensure the health and safety of your employees.

(c)the provision of such information, instruction, training and supervision as is necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of his employees;

By providing the relevant information your employees need to stay safe at work, you can comply with your legal health and safety duties as an employer. This information could include risk assessments, method statements and other health and safety information related to their tasks or activities. Or the documents that provide information on the risk and hazards they get exposed to at work.

When you get asked to supply copies of your health and safety documents for a project, or an assessment, it's good to have them signed. Sometimes, it might even be a contractual requirement. Because having your documents signed is evidence that the documents are in use. It shows that you have records to demonstrate your commitment to health and safety. That health and safety information is shared and put in place at all levels of your business.

For example, when you apply for health and safety accreditation like CHAS, safe contractor or Acclaim, you will need to submit supporting documents. The assessor will expect these documents to be complete, and they will look for evidence that the documents are in use on your projects.

Need help creating health and safety documents for your business? Use our health and safety document templates - ready to use and easy to edit.

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This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.

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