Health and Safety in the Workplace – Who is Responsible?
BA (Hons), MSc.
Associate Member CIEHF
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASAWA) and other UK legislation sets out your responsibilities as an employer, as an employee, and those of the HSE (Health and Safety Executive).
- £3.0 billion Employers
- £3.4 billion Government
- £8.6 billion Individuals
Costs to Britain of workplace injury and new cases of work-related ill health in 2016/17
Read on to find out more about who is responsible for health and safety in your workplace.
The responsibilities of the employer
As an employer, the primary responsibility lies with you; protecting the health, safety and welfare of your employees and other people* who might be affected by your business should be central to your business management. As well as being legally compliant, it makes good business sense because a happy and healthy workforce is a productive workforce.
” It is an employer’s duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and other people who might be affected by their business. Employers must do whatever is reasonably practicable to achieve this.”
Health and Safety Executive
*You have a duty to protect not only staff but also contractors, visitors and others such as the general public who are on or near your premises
The Health and Safety at Work Act sets out what an employer has a duty to provide. you can read more here. It includes the following:
A safe place to work in and safe systems of work
To provide a safe place to work in and safe equipment to work with, your starting point is a risk assessment.
You have a duty to assess all of the risks in your workplace and then put into place measures to reduce, control or eliminate the risk. This doesn’t mean you need to eliminate all risks; that would place an unworkable burden on employers and prove undoable. But you must do whatever is “reasonably practicable”.
Information and training
You must provide your workforce with information about the risks in your workplace and how they are protected. This will most likely include some instruction or training on how to deal with the risks.
Consultation with employees
You must consult your employees on matters to do with health and safety. You can do this directly, or where there is a trade union or health and safety representative, you should use these channels instead. Find out about any concerns they have. Your workforce is in the best position to understand the risks in their jobs so listen and involve them in decision-making.
A health and safety policy
The law requires every business to have a health and safety policy which should set out how you manage health and safety in your place of work. This should include an overview of how you will manage health and safety in your place of work. It should also list all people who have some responsibility for any area of health and safety including the person with overall responsibility and people with specific responsibilities such as a competent person, first aider or fire warden. The policy should also detail how you are going to manage your health and safety; include details about your risk assessments, evacuation plans, staff consultation and staff training.
Most but not all of the responsibility falls to the employer. It is also incumbent on employees to bear some of the responsibility for a safe place of work.
The responsibilities of the employee
Every employee has a duty of care to themselves and to others. This duty is implied in all contracts of employment.
Employees’ duties are set out in HASAWA:
- To take care of themselves and of others who may be affected by their actions.
- To cooperate with their employers on all matters concerning health and safety.
- Not misuse any equipment provided for health and safety. This includes, for example, fire extinguishers and fire alarms.
- Attend health and safety training.
- Follow guidance and instruction from employer on health and safety matters.
- Report any hazards promptly and appropriately.
And, lastly, the HSE holds some responsibility.
The role of the HSE
Also known as the HSE, the Health and Safety Executive is the nationwide, independent watchdog set up under HASAWA. Its remit is to reduce work-related injury, ill-health and death across Great Britain.
HSE’s emphasis is on preventing injury however, they can and do enforce the law where necessary. You can read more here about their prosecutions.
For good health and safety management, it is essential for the employer and employees to work together. If not properly managed, the consequences of poor health and safety can be disastrous, both in human costs and in financial ones. Remember though, most health and safety, in an office environment, is largely down to common sense and good housekeeping. Good, well-managed health and safety saves lives and it must be considered an essential and integral part of any business management. With planning and forethought, it need not be difficult or troublesome to provide a safe and healthy workplace for everyone.