Back to basics

words: Simon Bloxham, Safety for Business
Simon Bloxham

Last issue, we covered employers’ obligations and employees’ responsibilities. This time, we focus on how to maintain a healthy working environment.

Producing a policy

Under the HSWA, all employers with more than five employees must have a written health and safety policy. In cases of non-compliance, enforcement officers can issue improvement notices which can ultimately lead to potential criminal penalties, including large fines and imprisonment. Employers with fewer than five employees may still find it useful to put their health and safety policy into writing.

A health and safety policy should:

  • Demonstrate a commitment to managing health and safety
  • Contain a general statement of intent to provide a safe and healthy working environment
  • Be easily accessible and communicated to all employees
  • Give details of health and safety responsibilities and name key individuals
  • Cover the systems and procedures in place
  • Cover risk assessments
  • Include arrangements for employee consultation, maintaining equipment and safe handling of substances
  • Explain arrangements for training, supervision, accidents, first aid and emergencies
  • Address stress, and alcohol and drug misuse

Policies should be applied uniformly and there should be a system for regularly monitoring and reviewing the policy to ensure that it complies with current legislation.

Employers’ duties at work

Under section 2 of HSWA, employers should provide systems of work and a working environment which are, as far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risk to health. The duty extends to providing maintenance of safe work equipment and systems of work, information, training, supervision and adequate support.

All organisations must take precautionary measures to control fire risks, provide fire escape routes and training, and carry out fire safety risk assessments; those with five or more employees have additional record-keeping responsibilities.

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 lay down minimum standards for workplaces including:

  • Providing ventilation by ensuring a sufficient quantity of fresh and purified air
  • Maintaining a reasonable temperature
  • Ensuring suitable, sufficient and natural light so far as is reasonably practicable
  • Providing a clean workplace where waste materials must not be permitted to accumulate
  • Providing sufficient floor area, height and unoccupied space
  • Providing suitable and sufficient sanitary conveniences at readily accessible places
  • Inspectors from the local authority’s Environmental Health Department, or the HSE, are responsible for enforcing health and safety law, and organisations can be prosecuted for breaches

Risk assessment

Every employer must regularly undertake risk assessments. There are many detailed regulations and HSE guidance that require risks in different industries to be assessed. Typical risk assessments include those for:

  • Workstations
  • Hazardous chemicals
  • Handling and lifting heavy loads
  • Stress and ill health/wellbeing
  • Fire
  • Workplace equipment
  • Work at height

Accidents and disease at work

The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (known as RIDDOR) require employers to report any of the following to the HSE or the local council immediately:

  • Fatal accidents
  • Major injury or conditions which require medical treatment
  • Dangerous occurrences

Other matters should be reported quickly, including:

  • Accidents that prevent a worker from doing their normal work for more than seven days
  • Certain work-related diseases (poisoning, lung diseases, infections and other conditions must be reported when linked to specified types of work)
  • Certain gas incidents

Employers are legally obliged to provide first-aiders and inform all employees of the arrangements for getting first aid. Treatment of injured workers must be addressed without delay by an appointed first-aider.

An employer must record all workplace injuries, diseases, dangerous occurrences, or certain near accidents in an accident book. Employees must also report any accidents or illnesses caused by work and record the details in the accident book.

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