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Health and Safety law at work

Whether you’re an office worker, labourer, work in the public sector or work for a privately managed firm, all your work activities are covered by a wealth of health and safety regulations.

Regulated by the Health and Safety Executive, there’s a basic requirement that all places of work should be safe to work from and their website, www.hse.gov.uk offers a whole wealth of information across numerous different industries, not to mention useful information about their bigger role when it comes to offering adequate protection.

Under current legislation, all workers are entitled to work in environments where health and safety are properly managed by their employer. All employers are legally obliged to ensure that the law is strictly adhered to and failure to do so can lead to very serious consequences.

In this blog, we take a look at health and safety in the bigger picture to see how it applies to both employers and employees alike.

What does the law say on health and safety at work?

The vast majority of health and safety matters are covered by The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The various regulations made under this Act apply to all types of work situations – for example, through the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (‘COSHH’) and the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations.

There are also much more specific laws relating to certain hazards, such as the Food and Environmental Protection Act and the Control of Pesticides Regulations.

How does the law protect employees?

As we’ve already seen, each and every employee should be able to work knowing that their health and safety is priority.

In order to achieve this, employers have certain obligations and if an employee believes that these are not being correctly followed then they should report this to a nominated person within the company (perhaps a Safety Representative, or other nominated member of staff). Should the problem not be rectified within a reasonable timescale, then the matter should be reported to the Health and Safety Executive without delay.

Of course, whilst the onus of compliance remains on the employer, there are also certain expectations of employees and these include the following:-

  1. That all employees follow any training or guidance they have received, particularly when using any work equipment supplied by their employer – for example, tools, computer equipment, vehicles and so on.

 

  1. That all employees take reasonable care of both their own and other people’s health and safety. This includes taking any reasonable precautions which might be expected in the circumstances.

 

  1. That all employees fully co-operate with their employer with regard to health and safety regulations – for example, by complying with the health and safety policy, attending training sessions and reporting any issues in a timely manner.

 

  1. That all employees immediately report any concerns and that if, after speaking with their employer they still have concerns, they escalate these to the Health and Safety Executive without delay.

What must an employer do to comply with current health and safety legislation?

In order to comply with the Health and Safety at Work Act all employers must, at the bare minimum, ensure that the following requirements are followed at all times:-

  1. They must undertake a risk assessment to correctly predict what could cause potential harm to an employee whilst performing their job and take adequate precautions to prevent it.

 

  1. They must also explain to an employee how the potential risks will be controlled and who within the company will be responsible for this. (For larger companies this is usually a nominated Safety Representative).

 

  1. They must consult with both their employees and any other associated people (such as health and safety representatives) to ensure that everyone is adequately protected and consulted on any potential safety risks as and when they might occur.

 

  1. They must provide all employees with appropriate, job-related health and safety training. This can often be quite specific to a given role – for example, driving a fork-lift truck or lifting heavy boxes.

 

  1. They must also provide each employee with any personal protective equipment they might need, such as high-viz jackets, hard helmets, steel toe-capped footwear and so on. These should also be replaced as and when required, free of charge.

 

  1. They must ensure that suitable facilities are made available such as toilets, washing facilities and drinking water. These should be provided even when workers are required to work off-site, for example, on a road, motorway or in remote areas.

 

  1. They must also ensure that adequate first-aid facilities are readily available, should they be needed, including the supply of a first-aid kit.

 

  1. They must report all major injuries, diseases, dangerous incidents and fatalities at work to the Health and Safety Executive. For major incidents these should be reported immediately to the Incident Contact Centre whilst other types of (less urgent) issues can be reported online.

 

  1. They must have adequate insurance in place to insure any employee against accident or illness at work. Companies will also be required to carry public liability insurance, to cover incidents of other people getting hurt – for example, members of the public or general visitors.

 

  1. Finally, employers must work with any other employers or contractors sharing a given workplace to ensure that all health and safety requirements are met. This includes all contractors and agency workers.

Other types of workers affected by health and safety

Of course, a company might well employ other particular groups of workers where health and safety rules need to more specifically applied. These typically include (but not limited to) the following:

  • Temporary or agency workers (who might not attend the company’s full health and safety training induction but instead are briefed on the day of arrival by a nominated colleague)

 

  • New and expectant mothers (who may need additional assistance – for example, whilst leaving the building during a fire alarm)

 

  • Home workers (who are not supervised and may well be exposed to additional risk)

 

  • Lone workers (who may not be supervised should they need medical assistance)

 

  • Disabled workers (who may require reasonable adjustments to be made to their workplace under the Equality Act 2010)

Again, there can be lots of variations on these categories, so for further advice it’s always best to consult the Health and Safety Executive for the very latest information and support.

Conclusion

There can be little doubt that Health and Safety at work is a huge topic in its own right. It’s therefore essential that both employers and employees fully understand their rights and what might be expected of them in any given situation.

Larger companies might also opt to have a nominated Safety Representative, in which case their functions are more fully specified and defined within the Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996.

However a company chooses to manage its health and safety function, it’s imperative that all aspects of the Health and Safety at Work Act are fully complied with and that everyone fully understands their role in keeping the workplace safe.

For more information, both employers and employees are well advised to refer to the website www.hse.gov.uk and ensure that everyone stays safe – regardless of what their role within the company might be. For more information on work injury claims, please follow the link.