It must first be said that there are obviously other requirements set forth in the Health and Safety at Work Act that must be followed irrespective of employee numbers (Sections 3,4,6) however this guidance will focus only on those pertaining to the employer/employee relationship. Say you are just starting up your company, something early on in the Health and Safety at Work Act is very relevant at this stage. You need to have a written health and safety policy if you have 5 or more employees. With only one employee you still need to make safe arrangements in the immediate working environment for the employee but it is not necessary to have a policy document, however if you wish to grow you may want to start thinking about what should go into a policy and how the responsibilities and duties would be split over the company’s intended future hierarchy. However, as soon as you take on an employee you must arrange for Employers’ Liability compulsory insurance, this ensures that if an employee successfully uses a company following an accident they are assured of some form of compensation even if the employer is not financially capable of paying. This document has to be made readily available either digitally or displayed in office.
There are other duties outlined in the HSWA that are irrespective of employee numbers including: provision of safe plant and systems of work, safe use/handling/transport/storage of articles and substances, provision instruction/training/supervision, safe access and egress leading to a safe place of work and a safe working environment with adequate welfare facilities. There are other, often overlooked requirements too that are of a more ongoing nature such as: consulting safety representatives (or just consulting the employee if only one) either appointed internally or via trade union and establish a safety committee if requested to do so. Should you have less than 5 employees you must still undertake risk assessment but it does not need to be written down and can take the form of a verbal agreement between employer and employee.