Health and safety responsibilities for employers in the UK

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Written by: Alcumus
10th March

A health and safety fact; did you know that in 2020/21, 1.7 million UK workers suffered from a work-related illness, 142 people were fatally injured and health and safety breaches cost organisations £26.9 million in fines?

While prioritising the health, safety and wellbeing of workers is a legal obligation, it also makes good business sense as the costs and indirect implications of getting it wrong continues to rise.

Recognising the importance of health and safety in the workplace, our latest article looks at what businesses need to do to make sure that they have effective policies and procedures in place and comply with the relevant regulations, focusing on:

  • Primary legislation - Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974
  • Understanding workplace risk assessments
  • Where an organisation employs five or more workers
  • Your duty of care as an employer
  • RIDDOR - Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences

What is the Health and Safety at Work Act UK?

The primary piece of legislation that covers occupational health and safety in the workplace is The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HASAWA). This legal requirement identifies the general duties of both employers and employees for maintaining health and safety within the majority of workplaces and for casual, self-employed and temporary workers, as well as visiting members of the public.

As a brief overview, the Act requires workplaces to provide:

  • Suitable training of employees so that health and safety procedures are understood and observed
  • Adequate welfare provisions for employees at work
  • A safe working environment that is properly maintained, where operations that take place are conducted safely
  • Suitable provision of relevant information, instruction and supervision

The key requirements of the Act cover:

  1. Provide a safe place of work – considerations like fire safety, cleanliness, waste management and handling harmful substances.
  2. Provide safe equipment – which needs to be maintained so that it’s safe to use
  3. Provide employee training - to create a safe workplace
  4. Carry out risk assessments – so that appropriate preventative actions for any risk can be identified
  5. Provide proper facilities – which covers aspects like toilets, clean drinking water, heating and air conditioning
  6. Appoint a competent person – who is responsible for making sure that all health and safety duties are being carried out and followed by employees

There is further specific legislation for businesses that operate in a higher risk environment, such as the construction and chemical manufacturing industries.

Understanding workplace risk assessments

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 there is a requirement to identify what hazards currently exist or may appear in the workplace.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advises employers to follow a five step workplace risk assessment that includes:

  1. Look for the potential hazards that may cause harm to anyone that comes into contact with them.
  2. Decide who might be harmed and how, including on-site workers, visitors, or members of the public
  3. Evaluate the risks and establish suitable and effective control measures to reduce this level of risk
  4. Record your findings, which is a legal requirement for employers with five or more employees
  5. Review the assessment regularly so that existing control measures remain appropriate and effective

A health and safety risk assessment needs to:

  • Establish the risks arising from any work activities
  • Be appropriate to the nature of the work
  • Be proportionate to the level of risk and the specific nature of that work
  • Identify and prioritise the control measures required to protect the health and safety of employees and other persons who may be affected by that work activity

If you employ five or more people

For workplaces with five or more employees, employers must:

  • Keep a written record of a health and safety policy
  • Keep written assessments of the risks to employees, contractors, customers, partners, and any other people who could be affected by your activities
  • Consult with employees on relevant policies and associated health and safety arrangements.

Although health and safety law doesn’t apply to businesses with less than five employees, regardless of your size, as an employer you can place your business and your employees at significant risk if you do not take health and safety in the workplace seriously.

Your duty of care as an employer

Employers have a duty to take reasonable care of the health and safety of employees, so they are not exposed to an unnecessary risk, either in the workplace or when working at home.

This duty of care includes providing a safe and healthy work environment to prevent illness, injury and mental ill health.

Requirements under an employer’s duty of care are wide-ranging and should include in practice:

  • Provide a safe work environment and adequate training to prevent risks to health
  • Put in place safe working practices are make sure they are followed
  • Undertake risk assessments and set up emergency plans
  • Make sure the right work equipment is provided, regularly maintained and safe to use
  • Avoid work that is potentially dangerous involving manual handling
  • Prevent or control exposure to substances that may damage health and that all materials are handled, stored and used safely with the potential hazards explained to employees
  • Appropriate precautions against the risks that flammable or explosive hazards, electrical equipment, noise and radiation can cause
  • Provide adequate first aid facilities, health supervision as needed and where required protective clothing or equipment free of charge
  • Ventilation, temperature, lighting, toilet, washing and rest facilities that meet health, safety and welfare requirements
  • Report certain accidents, injuries, diseases and dangerous occurrences
  • Allow employees to raise concerns and consult employees on issues that concern them

Creating a Safe and Healthy Workplace

Making the workplace safe and healthy is all about managing risks so that you can protect your workers and your business.

In order to create safe and healthy workplaces, there are proactive steps that you can take to make sure you’re providing safe working conditions:

  • Properly ventilate premises with clean and fresh air, make sure temperatures are set to a comfortable level and provide the right level of lighting
  • Make suitable washing facilities and clean drinking water available
  • Keep workplace areas and equipment clean and make sure floors, walkways, stairs, roadways are safe to use
  • Provide the right amount of space to allow easy movement
  • Make sure that workstations are appropriate for employees and the work and maintain equipment in good working order
  • Protect against injury or illness from falling from height or dangerous substances and store items safety so they don’t cause falls that can cause injuries
  • Install safety devices to prevent accidents that can occur from windows, doors and gates
  • Where necessary, provide an area for employees to get changed and to store their personal belonging
  • Provide appropriate rest breaks and areas to eat meals, including suitable facilities that cater for pregnant and nursing employees
  • Make sure that employees working off-site or on their own can work safely and healthily

RIDDOR - Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences

Employers are legally obliged to record and report specific injuries, illnesses and incidents and follow RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013).

What you need to report:

  • Work-related deaths
  • Certain serious injuries (reportable injuries)
  • Diagnosed cases of industrial diseases
  • Certain ‘dangerous occurrences’ (near-miss incidents)
  • Injuries to workers which result in their incapacitation for more than seven days
  • Injuries to non-workers which result in them being taken directly to hospital for treatment or specified injuries to non-workers which occur on hospital premises

A report to HSE must be submitted within 10 days of the incident and include: The date of reporting, the date, time and location of the incident, personal details (name, job title etc) of the person(s) involved and a description of the injury, illness or occurrence.

How SafeWorkforce can help your business

We’ve been supporting SMEs to overcome their health and safety challenges for over 30 years. SafeWorkforce is a cost-effective health and safety solution that gives you access to a team of experts, available 24/7 365 days a year who can advise on a range of topics tailored to your business, helping you to reduce your workload. To speak to a member of the team, get in touch.

Call: 01484 439 930 opt.4 or make an enquiry