How to Write a Health and Safety Manual: A Guide for the Self-Employed

According to New Zealand law, particularly the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA), “businesses have the primary responsibility for the health and safety of their workers and any other workers they influence or direct.” What’s more, one of the principles of HSWA is that everyone—worker or not—should be given ample and reasonable protection from health and safety risks in the workplace.

All of these are well and good but what if you’re self-employed? What do you do when you’re solely responsible for your safety?

Well, you still need to have health and safety protocols. After all, as a professional, you want to take care of yourself so you can continue working. Besides, self-employed individuals are considered PCBUs. Thus, you also have a primary duty of care as per HSWA.

Why Do the Self-Employed Still Need a Health and Safety Manual?

PCBU or person conducting a business or undertaking is a broad term that encompasses most if not all modern working arrangements in New Zealand. Whether you run a large corporation or a small operation with just two employees, you’re considered a PCBU. Of course, and as previously mentioned, self-employed individuals also fall under this category.

As a PCBU, a self-employed person has the primary duty of care over everyone who may be influenced by their work. Thus, you should work to ensure that you as well as your customers, visitors, and any other person who may be at risk by the work you do are well-protected.

There are many ways to fulfil your primary duty of care. First, you can take health and safety training courses that can give you the knowledge and skills necessary to assess and address risks in the workplace. Proper training can also help you conduct investigations should something happen while you’re working.

It’s also helpful to have a health and safety manual. This will serve as your guide regarding possible risks you may encounter, as well as necessary procedures as to how to deal with these risks.

You can also share this manual with your customers. This way, they’re well-informed about work-related risks and can rest assured that you can handle such events should they happen. They can also act accordingly, which can help prevent unpleasant situations from getting worse.

What Do You Need to Think About When Writing Your Health and Safety Manual?

Before you start writing your health and safety manual, you need to consider a variety of factors. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are the health and safety risks when you work? Are these risks able to cause injury or diseases to you or others?
  • How likely are these risks to occur while conducting your work?
  • How severe will the harm be if these risks indeed occur?
  • Are there any options that can help you eliminate or minimise these risks?
  • What are the costs associated with these risks (e.g., prevention training, equipment, hospitalisation, etc.)?

Once you have the answers to these questions, it will be easier for you to write a comprehensive health and safety manual that takes into account most scenarios. Ultimately, while you can’t prepare for every eventuality, you’ll still be reasonably ready if or when disaster strikes.

What Should Be in Your Health and Safety Manual?

In essence, your health and safety manual should include detailed answers to the questions above. However, as a formal document, you should give your manual a cohesive structure. Consider the following sections:

Section 1: General Policy on Health and Safety

This part should state your commitment to workplace health and safety, as well as your goals. A good example here is to only have an X number of incidents per year or, if you’ve already experienced accidents at work before, to reduce the number of incidents to X.

The key is to be as specific as you can while being realistic. You probably want to have zero health and safety incidents every year; while it’s definitely possible, it can be too idealistic or even impractical.

Finally, make sure to review this section of your health and safety manual at least annually to monitor how closely you’re able to comply.

Section 2: Responsibilities

Obviously, as a self-employed individual, most of the responsibilities will fall upon you. Nevertheless, if you’re working with other people (whether they’re your employees or business partners), make sure to specify their roles and what they may be able to contribute. It doesn’t matter if it’s “small.” Every responsibility and measure related to workplace health and safety should be included in this manual.

Section 3: Corresponding Actions

This section is where you should itemise your plans in order to achieve the goals you stated in Section 1 of your manual. Again, be specific. With the example stated above, you can reduce the number of health and safety incidents at work by undergoing training (or taking refresher courses) and investing in better equipment.


Ultimately, everyone benefits with a well-crafted health and safety manual. On your part, you can do your job with more confidence and gain the trust of your customers—which is definitely good for business. On your customers’ part, they can have more peace of mind knowing that they’re in good hands both in terms of work quality and safety.

CC Training Academy offers health and safety courses for teams and individuals.