The law imposes a responsibility on the employer to ensure safety at work for all their employees.
Much of the law regarding safety in the work place can be found in the Health & Safety At Work Act 1974.
Employers have to take reasonable steps to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees at work.
Failure to do so could result in a criminal prosecution in the Magistrates Court or a Crown Court. Failure to ensure safe working practises could also lead to an employee suing for personal injury or in some cases the employer being prosecuted for corporate manslaughter.
As well as this legal responsibility, the employer also has an implied responsibility to take reasonable steps as far as they are able to ensure the health and safety of their employees is not put at risk. So an employer might be found liable for his actions or failure to act even if these are not written in law.
An employer should assess the level of risk as against the cost of eliminating that risk in deciding whether they have taken reasonable steps as far as they are able.
The employer's responsibility to the employee might include a duty to provide safe plant and machinery and safe premises, a safe system of work and competent trained and supervised staff. Certain groups of employees may require more care and supervision than others, for example disabled workers, pregnant workers, illiterate workers etc.
The employer must consult either directly with their employees or through an elected representative on health and safety matters. If there is a recognised union with an appointed safety representative they must consult with them and allow them time off for training in health and safety issues.
Usually the employer's responsibility is only to his or her own employees and premises; however, the responsibility can be extended in some circumstances.
1. Where employees from different firms are employed on one job, the main contractor will then be responsible for co-ordinating the work in a safe manner and must inform all employees of possible hazards whether they are his actual employees or not.
2. Where the employee is sent to work for someone else but remains employed by the same employer but an accident happens at the place where he has been sent to work, the responsibility may fall on the original employer.
3. The employer may also have responsibility to customers or visitors who use the work place.
It is always advisable for employers to have a written code of conduct, rules regarding training & supervision, and rules on safety procedures. This should include information on basic health and safety requirements. Leaflets and posters giving warnings of hazards are always advisable.
In any event an employer must establish a health and safety policy if they employ five or more workers. Where there is a recognised trade union in the workplace, which has appointed a safety representative that person must be consulted when drawing up the safety policy.
Also the management of Health & Safety At Work Regulations 1992 requires an employer to carry out a risk assessment of the work place and put in place appropriate control measures.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 established the Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety Executive. The Commission is responsible for advising and authorising research and suggestions on putting into effect the provisions made in the Health and Safety at Work Act, as well as suggestions for passing regulations to support the provisions in the Health and Safety at Work Act and issuing codes of practice. The Executive is responsible for providing information and advice to government ministers and to investigate breaches.
Any prospective employer setting up a new business should be aware of six important regulations which came about as a result of membership to the European Union and are incorporated into UK law.
Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (Management Regulations)
Places an obligation on the employer to actively carry out a risk assessment of the work place and act accordingly. The assessment must be reviewed when necessary and recorded where there are 5 or more employees. It is intended to identify health and safety and fire risks.
Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992
Deals with any modification, extension or conversion of an existing workplace. The requirements include control of temperature, lighting, ventilation, cleanliness, room dimensions etc. The regulations also provide that non-smokers should be allocated separate rest areas from smokers.
The Provision And Use Of Work Equipment Regulations 1998
Deals with minimum standards for the use of machines and equipment with regard to suitability, maintenance and inspection. The regulations will also cover mobile work equipment from December 2002.
The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 (Manual Handling Regulations)
Deals with the manual handling of equipment, stocks, materials etc. Where reasonably practicable an employer should avoid the need for his or her employees to undertake manual handling involving risk of injury.
Personal Protective Equipment Work Regulations 1992 (PPE)
Deals with protective clothing or equipment which must be worn or held by an employee to protect against health and safety risks. It also covers maintenance and storage of such equipment. Employers cannot charge for such clothing or equipment which must carry the "CE" marking.
The Health & Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 (Display Screen Regulations)
Introduced measures to prevent repetitive strain injury, fatigue, eye problems etc. in the use of technological equipment. Every employer should make a suitable and sufficient analysis of each workstation and surrounding work environment to ensure it meets the detailed requirements set out in the Regulations. This includes eyesight tests on request, breaks from using the equipment and provision of health and safety information about the equipment to the employee.
Other relevant Regulations include:
Working Time Directive and Working Time Regulations 1998
Regulates the maximum working hours for workers, (including night workers) and free health assessments to assess suitability to work particular hours. It also governs rest periods and breaks. For more detail see Working Time Regulations.
The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995
Employers must notify the Health and Safety Executive or local authority about work accidents resulting in death, personal injury or sickness where an employee is off work for more than 3 days. Records must be kept of all such accidents at the workplace for at least 3 years. Accident books must be kept where an employer employs ten or more persons on the same premises. (If the employment is at a mine, quarry or factory, accident books must be kept regardless of the number of employees.)
The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 1994
These Regulations set out detailed requirements with regard to the design and management of certain areas of construction work and together with the Construction (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1996 provide for the maintenance of safe and healthy environments on construction sites.
Electricity at Work Regulations 1989
These place a duty on an employer to assess risks involved in work activities involving electricity, (this can even cover electrical appliances such as kettles). All such equipment must be properly maintained.
Fire Precautions (Workplace) (Amendment) Regulations 1999
All workplaces should be inspected by the fire authority to check means of escape, fire fighting equipment and warnings and a fire certificate issued. A breach of a fire certificate could lead to a prosecution of the employer or responsible manager or other staff member.
Health and Safety (First Aid) Regulations 1981
Employers have to make adequate and appropriate provision for first aid.
Employers Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Regulations 1998
Employers must insure against liability for injury or disease sustained by an employee in the course of their employment. The sum to be insured is not less than £5 million.
Noise at Work Regulations 1989 (Noise Regulations)
Imposes a duty on employers to reduce risk of damage to hearing of employees from exposure to noise.
The Health & Safety Executive and the Environmental Health Departments for the local authorities are responsible for enforcing the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 and the various regulations.
They can provide information and guidance as well as enter premises to investigate conditions or seize and destroy harmful substances. They can also prosecute employers or serve Notices on them to improve working conditions, or in some cases serve Notices that work should stop altogether.
Under the provisions in the Employment Rights Act 1996 employees are protected from dismissal or victimisation by an employer for a health and safety related reason, (eg. bringing to the employer's attention matters connected to the work which is harmful or potentially harmful and breaches health and safety regulations).
Under the Health and Safety at Work Act employers must have a written policy on health and safety at work which must be provided to all employees. Failure to provide such written information is an offence and carries a maximum fine of £20,000 in a Magistrates Court or an unlimited fine in the Crown Court.
Useful Telephone Numbers
Health and Safety Executive
Tel: 01787 881 165 (for free leaflets and publications)
Tel: 08701 545 500 (HSE Infoline)