Health and safety in the workplace is a collective responsibility. Whilst the burden for workplace health and safety falls on the employer, the responsibility for health and safety within the workplace needs to be shared by everyone.
The specifics of how health and safety is implemented within your workplace might depend on:
For some businesses, health and safety will be fairly straightforward. Keeping staff and end-users of the service safe will generally require common sense and a working knowledge of any legislation that affects the industry the business operates in.
For businesses that have managed to foster a culture where health and safety is upheld and respected, it will largely become second nature to employees. Simple acts such as keeping fire exits clear, displaying a wet floor sign when the floor is wet and could be slippery, maintaining good housekeeping and attending regular fire training all become part of the day-to-day procedures of the workplace.
For some industries, especially those who deal with complex operations or hazardous situations such as mines, nuclear plants or asbestos removal, the management of health and safety operations has to be far more in depth, stringent and with significantly more checks in place.
The law requires managers to assess and manage risk as far as is practical. The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 outlines the duty of care that all employers have to their workers.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 sets out more specifically the employer’s responsibilities, i.e. the steps they take to ensure health and safety need to correspond with each activity happening within the workplace, rather than more general rules.
To help them maintain health and safety within their businesses, there are many aspects employers need to consider:
Because health and safety in the workplace is a shared responsibility it is important that employees acknowledge that they also have a part to play. Employees are responsible for putting into practice the training that they are given as well as communicating with their peers and managers regarding concerns, ideas or improvements that could be made.
All employees should:
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is an independent, governing body that is responsible for the regulation of health and safety and staff welfare within UK workplaces. They offer advice, guidance, information, templates and tools to employers and employees. They also conduct inspections and have enforcement capabilities.
Some businesses might appoint a dedicated Health and Safety Manager or Health and Safety Executive within the company. This is especially useful in businesses that operate in high-risk areas (such as construction) or that have a large number of employees.
Businesses that decide to employ a specific health and safety manager will benefit from having a qualified, experienced, single point of contact for staff on all levels to approach regarding any health and safety matters.
The roles and responsibilities of a dedicated health and safety professional will include:
The main piece of legislation that relates to health and safety in the workplace is:
In addition to this there is:
This piece of legislation gives clearer guidance on exactly how risks should be assessed and managed and the steps that should be taken to control them.
There is also a significant amount of industry-specific legislation that might apply, depending on which field a business is operating in such as:
Employees are also covered under:
This legislation regulates the maximum number of hours employees are allowed to work as well as when they are entitled to breaks. However, in some industries, in particular hospitality, workers are asked to opt out of certain parts in writing (such as the 48-hour maximum working week).
In addition, it is a legal requirement to provide fire safety training in the workplace. Specific legislation that addresses this includes:
If a worker dies, is injured or becomes ill as a result of their work and the employer has been negligent and failed to protect them adequately, they could be subject to:
Either of these possibilities can result in a financial loss for the employer as well as damage to the reputation of their business. Where significant breaches have occurred, employers could be subject to incarceration and a criminal record.
Managing risks is an important part of ensuring health and safety within the workplace is at the level it needs to be. One way to do this is by conducting risk assessments. These can be carried out by the employer or another competent person.
Steps to take when conducting a risk assessment:
1. Identify hazards (or potential hazards).
2. Assess risks.
3. Control risks.
4. Record your findings.
5. Review the controls.
It is vital that managers ensure that they always have appropriate PPE in stock, with staff trained to use it.
They must also ensure any equipment, machinery or mechanical aids on site are regularly inspected and fit for purpose and that they are being compliant with any government regulations, such as those for certain electrical equipment to be PAT tested.
A person does not necessarily have to be harmed for an offence to have been committed in relation to HSWA – only a risk of harm needs to be evident. This means that it is important employers and business owners take steps to manage and control the risks within their workplaces.
Audits: Conduct regular audits. Businesses that belong to certain governing bodies or who want to attain certain accreditations (such as ISOs) will have to submit to external audits on a periodical basis. It is also important to conduct regular internal health and safety audits as this helps to identify patterns, recurrences and areas of weakness.
The results of audits should be collated and made available to all departments. Any areas of weakness that are identified should be addressed as early as possible, with additional training and support given to staff who require it.
Sometimes, businesses will want to demonstrate their commitment to health and safety to their clients and the general public by getting industry-respected accreditations such as the ISO 45001 or joining a scheme such as CHAS or the CCS.
Health and safety laws are enforced by both inspectors from the HSE and the local council/local authority depending on the type of business in question.
The role of an inspector is to check how risks are being managed and how health and safety legislation is being put into practice within the workplace to prevent accidents, injuries and work-related ill health.
They may do this by:
When inspectors find, or are alerted to, problems with health and safety within a workplace they have a range of options at their disposal. For the most serious breaches they will look to prosecute those who are legally responsible; they are also able to serve improvement or prohibition notices. Inspectors do have the power to seize items and make reasonable investigations including taking samples, interviewing witnesses or requesting documents.
For minor infractions, an inspector may deal with the issue informally prior to taking a more formal route; however, it is always necessary to make the improvements that they request.
As a manager or business owner it is also important that you use your authority to enforce good health and safety practice and ensure compliance, or that you consult with a competent third party to help you with this.
A commitment to health and safety within the workplace is often led from the top-down, therefore it is crucial that subordinate workers see that their management or supervisors are taking health and safety matters seriously.
For health and safety practice to be upheld on a daily basis within businesses requires commitment, clarity, good communication and a cohesive team effort. Although the weight of the law rests on the employer, minimising risks and avoiding accidents and injuries at work requires everyone to work together for the greater good.
Compliance with health and safety practice does, quite literally, save lives.
Contact us for further information.