Employers have a duty of care and responsibility regarding the health and safety of their employees as well as any visitors to their premises. This includes customers, suppliers, volunteers and any visiting members of the public.
But what exactly are the health and safety regulations in the UK and how do businesses adhere to them?
In this article we will look at the various legislation in place to protect the health and safety of employees as well as detailing the rights and responsibilities of all parties in small and medium sized businesses.
What exactly does health and safety mean?
Health and safety is a diverse subject, but essentially, it is based on one core principle, preventing harm to employees and staff in a workplace. And that means taking every necessary step to keep everyone safe, and healthy.
There are a variety of health and safety regulations to comply with in the UK. Rules that must be obeyed to ensure the safety of staff. But even without regulations, health and safety is the right thing to do. Everyone owes everyone else a ‘duty of reasonable care’ and nobody wants anybody else to get hurt or suffer serious injury.
What are the Health and Safety at Work Regulations in the UK?
The Health and Safety at Work Act places the legal duty on employers to oversee the health, safety and welfare of their employees and anyone on their premises.
Under this Act, employers have an obligation to ensure that any hazards, including work-related violence, are eliminated or controlled to protect the well-being of their employees and others.
Where there are five or more employees, an employer must have a written health and safety policy in place that is clearly communicated to all employees.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations Act requires employers to carry out thorough risk assessments to identify and control workplace risks.
What is a workplace risk assessment?
A risk assessment of the workplace is an evaluation of the potential risks on a worksite which identifies those who are most at risk and what precautions have been put in place to eliminate or reduce these risks.
It must be written up in a document known as a method statement or ‘safe system of work’ policy that details how certain tasks around the workplace will be carried out to ensure they are compliant and safe.
There are five simple steps to a risk assessment. These are:
- Identify the hazard – that is find out exactly what might cause harm to staff.
- Identify those at risk – this means looking for those who the hazard might impact on. It’s important to remember that certain members of staff (for example, vulnerable people) might be more at risk than others.
- Take action – Do whatever is required to minimize the risk for staff.
- Report findings and review annually to see if policies need amending or if situations have changed.
What do you mean by an employers’ duty of care?
Employers have a duty of care to their employees. This means that they must take all possible steps towards ensuring their employees are healthy and safe in the workplace.
This duty of care goes far beyond fulfilling the legal duties as detailed in the Health and Safety Work Act and Health and Safety at Work Regulations. It also builds trust and is proven to improve staff productivity and engagement.
Some examples of how employers can ensure health and safety in the workplace is maintained include:
- Clearly defining jobs to avoid risk as well as performing thorough risk assessments periodically
- Taking all measures to prevent risks to health on the premises
- Ensuring that all machinery is safe to use and does not fall into disrepair
- Making sure working practices are set up and followed by staff
- Making sure that all materials used in the workplace are handled, stored and used safely
- Providing staff with sufficient first aid facilities
- Informing workers of any potential hazards in their daily tasks
- Providing adequate training to all staff
- Putting emergency plans and procedures in place to deal with risk and issues
- Making sure that facilities meet health, safety and welfare requirements – such as ventilation, temperature, lighting, as well as washing and rest facilities
- Providing the correct work equipment and ensuring it is properly used and maintained
- Providing protective clothing if necessary for the employee’s role
- Making sure warning signs are present and maintained
- Reporting of certain accidents, injuries, diseases and any dangerous occurrences to the HSE or a local authority (depending on the type of business you have)
As an employer, how can I make a workplace health and safety compliant?
There are a few areas of health and safety that are often overlooked because they don’t seem like major risks. Here are a few to think about to ensure your workplace is compliant:
- Make sure that the building is properly ventilated with clean air
- Keep temperatures in buildings at a level that is comfortable for all (13 degrees minimum if work involves physical activity and 16 degrees for offices)
- Have appropriate lighting within the workplace which allows for safe work and movement
- Keep the workplace and the equipment clean
- Ensure areas are large enough for ease of movement (at least 11 cubic metres per person as set out in law)
- Provide suitable workstations for employees
- Maintain work equipment so it is safe to use
- Make sure that floors, walkways, stairs and roadways are safe to use
- Make sure that dangerous items or substances are stored safely so they won’t cause injuries
- Provide washing facilities suitable for staff and clean drinking water
- Let employees take rest breaks and entitlement to holidays
- Make sure that employees who work alone or off-site can do so safely and healthily
What health and safety Incidents do employers have to report?
Employers have a legal obligation to report certain incidents to the relevant authorities under The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations. The relevant authorities could include HSE, Office for Rail Regulation or local authorities but it is always best to seek advice from a professional to understand who you need to report to and how.
Employers must report any of the following:
- Work-related deaths
- Major injuries or any injuries over three days
- Diseases related to work
- Dangerous occurrences or near-miss accidents
Health and safety within the workplace is a complex issue. But we hope with a little help from this guide, you now understand it better.