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What is Health and Safety?
Under UK health and safety law and the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974), it’s the employer’s responsibility to protect the health and safety of not only their employees, but also anyone else who might be affected by the business.
Elsewhere around the world, many countries have similar legislation now in place.
In the United States, similar legislation is called the Occupational Safety and Health Act (1970), and the Work Health and Safety (2011) Act in Australia.
The law recognises that 100% protection is not a realistic expectation. The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 say this about it: ‘employers have a legal duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable*, the health, safety and welfare at work of employees‘.
Should you be concerned about Workplace Health and Safety?
The context of workplace health and safety law varies broadly, depending on which country you are in. For some, the legal obligations may not be very specific at all.
However, any company that operates internationally will usually perform to an expected level, such as that dictated by international standards like ISO 45001 – the management standard for health and safety.
For most small, low-risk businesses just a few important measures are needed.
All businesses have to conduct a health and safety risk assessment and have a health and safety policy. UK Health and Safety law says that those with fewer than five employees don’t need to write down their health and safety policy or risk assessment results.
That said, it’s probably wise to do it anyway.
What do you need to know about Health and Safety?
It’s a pretty broad question (just ever so slightly). We could write, and people have done, an encyclopedia on the subject. But we aren’t going to!
We just want to concentrate on introducing you to some of the most important concepts in the world of health and safety. So that you can pick out the bits that are important to you and your business!
Let’s get started….
Does your business have Health and Safety risks?
Some types of business are inherently more dangerous than others. Can you think of any risky ones?
Let’s see….. How about mining? Those involving the handling of explosives and noxious chemicals? Nuclear power plants maybe? What about those in which you have to work with heavy machinery or work at height. Agriculture? Construction? Surely those working out at sea are at risk? Etc. etc…..
There are plenty of high risk industries that we can identify. Many of which are strictly controlled when it comes to safety.
In reality, it’s impossible to run a business without incurring some level of risk.
Regardless of which industry we are talking about, employers are responsible for the physical safety of employees and anyone else who visits the workplace.
Common sense measures can help significantly to reduce risk. Such as making sure that buildings and equipment are in good repair and adhering to regulations.
It’s why basic health & safety risk assessments are so essential for every organisation.
Watch our video from our Risk Assessment Guide to find out a bit more about the what, why and when of risk assessment.
Why does Workplace Health and Safety UK matter?
The obvious business-related motivation to look after the health, safety and well-being of your employee’s is that it inevitably enhances trust, productivity and loyalty.
Of course, people with health problems are more likely to be absent from work and less productive when in work. They are also much more likely to leave if the company was in some way responsible.
And health problems are extremely common, as shown by the latest government figures:
- 1 in 4 UK employees have a physical health condition
- 1 in 8 have a mental health condition
- 1 in 10 has a musculoskeletal condition
- 33% of those with a condition say it is long-term
- 42% of those with a health condition say that it affects their work
Most of the above conditions won’t have been caused in the current working environment. But, it’s important to consider that an employer must not aggravate or significantly worsen any pre-existing illness or injury.
You can find more detail on some of the most recent injury and illness figures on our post on HSE Statistics – these are useful for your internal communications when discussing health and safety with your workforce. To make it easier, just listen to the Safeti School Podcast below…
Health and Safety UK: Does the Health part matter?
Occupational health has been defined as ‘enabling people to undertake their occupation in the way that causes least harm to their health’.
The term ‘health’ is referred to by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
That’s pretty deep, and may seem like a utopian (unrealistic) dream to many employer’s!
Nevertheless, the focus upon employee’s health and well-being in the workplace is becoming increasingly important over time.
With that in mind, it’s important to remember this one thing regarding health. Employer’s in the UK have a responsibility to take reasonable action to ensure the health of their employee’s is not negatively impacted during the course of their work.
What are the benefits of a strong Health and Safety policy?
There are numerous benefits of having strong policies and following good practices in the workplace.
UK law says that every business must have a policy for managing health and safety.
A health and safety policy sets out your general approach to health and safety. It explains how you, as an employer, will manage health and safety in your business. It should clearly say who does what, when and how.
If you have five or more employees, you must write your policy down. If you have fewer than five employees you do not have to write anything down, but it is useful to do so.
Positive outcomes result from employer’s taking ownership of their duty of care for their employees and anyone else who may be on their premises.
Benefit 1 – Protecting your staff
Following health and safety guidelines is primarily to protect employers and their staff from injury, illness or coming into any other form of harm in the workplace.
One of the main benefits of following health and safety practices is to prevent common workplaces injuries & illness such as back pain, falling from height, asthma, injuries from slips and trips and asbestos-related illness.
Benefit 2 – Reducing absences
Following health and safety guidelines and maintaining a safe work place will reduce the risk of work-related illnesses and injuries, and therefore reduce staff absences. Employers therefore also save money on the direct costs of absences, such as paying salaries.
Benefit 3 – Improving productivity
If your colleagues and employees are able to work in a safe environment, this will improve morale and overall productivity. It is difficult to argue that happy and motivated staff won’t be more productive than those who feel like their well-being is low priority.
Benefit 4 – Saving money
By maintaining health and safety practices in the workplaces, and therefore reducing absences and improving productivity, you will be saving money by retaining staff.
Money spent on absences and recruitment processes will decrease, and the business’ profits will increase.
Benefit 5 – Protecting the business
The other major reason to pay good attention to your health and safety obligations is that the regulator, the Health and Safety Executive, and the courts have immense power to punish individuals and companies who are not taking their obligations seriously.
Now you are aware of the benefits of a strong health and safety policy, listen to the 3 must-do actions when putting together your policy!
What does the Health and Safety at Work Act UK say?
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASWA) sets out the health and safety law framework for the UK.
The act defines the general duties of everyone from employers (section 2) and employees (section 7,8) to owners, managers and maintainers of work premises(etc) for maintaining health and safety within most workplaces.
There is, however, further specific legislation for business sectors that operate within a higher risk environment. Such as the construction industry, chemical manufacturing, mining etc.
The act itself is a primary piece of legislation set out by the government. Other regulations which compliment the HASAWA 1974 are known as statutory instruments (supporting pieces of legislation).
Statutory instruments serve to make small changes,updates or additions to existing legislation. Without having to create an entirely new Bill.
Check out our rundown of the Health and Safety at Work Act in our podcast….
Health and Safety UK | Responsibilities for Employers
- a safe system of work;
- a safe place of work;
- safe equipment, plant and machinery;
- safe and competent people working alongside you, because employers are also liable for the actions of their staff and managers;
- providing adequate facilities for staff welfare at work.
- carrying out risk assessments as set out in regulations, and taking steps to eliminate or control these risks;
- appointing a ‘competent person’ responsible for health and safety (competent persons, such as a head of health and safety, oversee day-to-day safety management, oversee safety inspections, and liaise with staff safety reps);
- consulting with workplace safety representatives (if a union is recognised, your employer must set up and attend a workplace safety committee if two or more safety reps request one); and
We’ve summarised our top 8 H&S responsibilities for employer’s in audio form to make it even easier..
It’s important not to forget that there are also fundamental health and safety responsibilities for employees as well. Let’s take a look at what those Employee’s Responsibilities are in more detail.
Health and Safety UK | Responsibilities of Employees
As an employee, you have rights and you have responsibilities for your own well-being and that of your colleagues.
Your most important responsibilities as an employee are:
- to take reasonable care of your own health and safety
- take reasonable care not to put other people – fellow employees and members of the public – at risk by what you do or don’t do in the course of your work
- co-operate with your employer, making sure you get proper training and you understand and follow the company’s health and safety policies
- not to interfere with or misuse anything that’s been provided for your health, safety or welfare
- to report any injuries, strains or illnesses you suffer as a result of doing your job, your employer may need to change the way you work
- tell your employer if something happens that might affect your ability to work, like becoming pregnant or suffering an injury
- if you drive or operate machinery, you have a responsibility to tell your employer if you take medication that makes you drowsy
Who enforces the Health and Safety Legislation?
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is the appointed body that is responsible for enforcing in the UK.
However, when it comes to enacting enforcement, this responsibility is divided between the HSE and local authorities.
What exactly is the Health and Safety Executive?
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is a UK government agency responsible for the encouragement, regulation and enforcement of workplace health, safety and welfare, and for research into occupational risks in Great Britain.
In Northern Ireland, this responsibility is with the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI).
The HSE was created by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. As part of its work, HSE investigates industrial accidents, small and large, including major incidents. Such as the explosion and fire at Buncefield in 2005.
The HSE’s duties are to:
- Assist and encourage persons concerned with matters relevant to the operation of the objectives of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974
- Make arrangements for and encourage research and publication, training, and information in connection with its work
- Make arrangements to provide an information and advisory service on relevant issues
- Propose new H and S regulations
Let’s move on to look at some examples of Health and Safety regulation in the UK…..
Examples of UK Health and Safety Regulations
As previously mentioned, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 is the key piece of workplace health and safety law for Great Britain.
However, there are other regulations which are designed to keep workplaces healthy and safe. So remember, more specific regulations may also be relevant to you, dependent on your business sector or industry.
Here are a few examples:
Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
Also known as the ‘Management Regs’, these came into effect in 1993. Main employer duties under the Regulations include:
- making ‘assessments of risk’ to the health and safety of its workforce, and to act upon risks they identify, so as to reduce them;
- appointing competent persons to oversee workplace health and safety;
- providing workers with information and training on occupational health and safety; and
- operating a written health and safety policy.
The Workplace (Health, Safety & Welfare) Regulations 1992
These Regulations broadly cover the general welfare of employees. The main provisions require employers to provide:
- adequate lighting, heating, ventilation and workspace (and keep them in a clean condition);
- staff facilities, including toilets, washing facilities and refreshment; and
- safe passageways, i.e. to prevent slipping and tripping hazards.
The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992
The main provisions here apply to display screen equipment (DSE) ‘users’, defined as workers who ‘habitually’ use a computer as a significant part of their normal work.
This includes people who are regular users of DSE equipment, or rely on it as part of their job. This covers you if you use DSE for an hour or more continuously, and/or you are making daily use of DSE.
Employers are required to:
- make a risk assessment of workstation use by DSE users, and reduce the risks identified;
- ensure DSE users take ‘adequate breaks’;
- provide regular eyesight tests;
- provide health and safety information;
- provide adjustable furniture (e.g. desk, chair, etc.); and
- demonstrate that they have adequate procedures designed to reduce
Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005
Fire safety is only one of many safety issues with which management must concern themselves to minimise the risk of injury or death to staff or the public.
However, it must be recognised that it usually has significant potential to cause harm & destruction within a short timeframe.
The Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at Work Regulations 1992
The main provisions require employers to:
- ensure that suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) is provided free of charge “wherever there are risks to health and safety that cannot be adequately controlled in other ways.”
- The PPE must be ‘suitable’ for the risk in question, and include protective face masks and goggles, safety helmets, gloves, air filters, ear defenders, overalls and protective footwear; and
- provide information, training and instruction on the use of this equipment.
Manual Handling Regulations 1992
- make assessments of manual handling risks, and try to reduce the risk of injury. The assessment should consider the task, the load and the individual’s personal characteristics (physical strength, etc.); and
- provide workers with information on the weight of each load.
The Provision and Use of Work Equipment (PUWER) Regulations 1998
The main provisions require employers to:
- ensure the safety and suitability of work equipment for the purpose for which it is provided;
- properly maintain the equipment, irrespective of how old it is;
- provide information, instruction and training on the use of equipment; and
- protect employees from dangerous parts of machinery.
Work at Height Regulations
Falls from height are one of the biggest causes of workplace fatalities and major injuries.
Typically, falls from a height are responsible for ~25% of workplace fatalities in the UK. e.g. 35 of 142 fatalities in 2020/21.
Common causes are falls from ladders and through fragile roofs. The purpose of Work at Height Regulations 2005 (WAHR) is to prevent death and injury from a fall from height.
Here are some tips to consider when planning activities that may involve work at height;
- do as much work as possible from the ground
- ensure workers can get safely to and from where they work at height
- ensure equipment is suitable, stable and strong enough for the job
- make sure you don’t overload or overreach when working at height
- take precautions when working on/near fragile surfaces
- provide protection from falling objects
- consider emergency evacuation/rescue plan
Lifting Oerations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER)
Lifting equipment includes any equipment used at work for lifting or lowering loads, including attachments used for anchoring, fixing or supporting it.
The LOLER Regs cover a wide range of equipment including, cranes, forklift trucks, lifts, hoists, mobile elevating work platforms, and vehicle inspection platform hoists. The definition also includes lifting accessories such as chains, slings, eyebolts etc.
The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) 1995
Let’s take a look at the RIDDOR regulations as an example of what these pieces of legislation might include;
First off, RIDDOR stands for the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013.
These Regulations in the UK (United Kingdom) require employers, the self-employed and those in control of premises to report specified workplace incidents
This guidance will help clarify how RIDDOR applies and whether certain types of incident are reportable.
The HSE will pass on reported information about incidents to other regulators, where appropriate.
For b asic information on the requirements of RIDDOR, such as, who should report, how to report and when to report, listen to our podcast and check out our RIDDOR Reporting Guide…
As you can probably see by this point, Health and Safety can get complex. It’s important to be confident that you have someone competent working in or on behalf of your business, to keep you on the right track. Let’s take a look at why…
Health and Safety UK | Appointing a Competent Person
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations state that you must get help from a health and safety competent person to enable you to meet the requirements of health and safety law.
A competent person is someone who has sufficient training and experience or knowledge and other qualities that allow them to assist you properly.
The level of competence required will depend on the complexity of the situation and the particular help you need.
In many cases, there will be appropriate expertise within the business to cope with it. You should give preference to those in your own organisation who have the adequate level of knowledge and competence (which can include the employer themselves).
That said, sometimes it is more a case of there not being enough resources available to complete the necessary work. If resources are stretched, you will want to consult with health and safety representatives in good time to make arrangements.
Competent Person ServiceH&S Expertise for your Business
- Chartered H&S Practitioners
- Qualified, Experienced & Insured
- Health and Safety Competent Person
Who should you ask for Health and Safety help?
You should always ensure that you get the right type of advice for your business. To ensure you find an appropriately qualified professional, IOSH is a good place to start.
The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) is the world’s largest health and safety membership body and the only one currently with a Royal Charter.
With over 44,000 members in 99 countries, IOSH is committed to ensuring that global work practices are safe, healthy and sustainable. IOSH is a UK-based organisation offering professional qualifications in order to raise standards of health and safety in the workplace.You can find out more about IOSH in our post over here.
If you looking for a competent person, their level of IOSH membership is a helpful indicator of their level of experience. Chartered Members work under the IOSH Code of Conduct, this ensures that the level of competence, work quality and integrity is ensured for your business.
Any consultancy work undertaken by Safeti is always carried out or overseen by an IOSH Chartered (CMIOSH) professional.
The Occupational Health and Safety Consultants Register (OSHCR)
Another way to identify appropriately qualified people, through the HSE’s OSH Consultant’s Register (OSHCR).
OSHCR is a public register of UK-based health and safety consultants, set up by the Health and Safety Executive to assist UK employers and business owners with competent advice on workplace health and safety issues.