Back to basics

words: Simon Bloxham, Safety for Business
Simon Bloxham

The purpose of health and safety law is to ensure a safe working environment for employees. In the UK this requires employers to meet health and safety obligations, covered by a vast range of legislation. But what do they all mean to you the employer?

Although a range of laws govern safety issues, health and safety at work isn’t solely governed by legislation. Under ‘common law’ all employers have a duty of care, an obligation to protect their employees, which is implied in all employment contracts and requires employers to take care of their employees’ health and safety. Employers must:

  • Provide a safe place of work
  • Provide a safe system of work
  • Provide adequate plant and equipment

If an employer fails to take reasonable care in any of these areas and an employee is injured or worse, the employer can be prosecuted. Employees also have responsibilities and should work with their employer to develop a safe place to work in.

Main UK legislation

All employers have a legal responsibility under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA) and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSWR) to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees. This is understood to include minimising the risk of work-related mental health issues as well as injury.

The HSWA covers all workplaces and says that an employer must do everything reasonably practicable to provide a safe and healthy workplace. The HSWA is supplemented by many regulations, codes of practice and guidance.

The MHSWR set out in more detail what employers are required to do to manage health and safety under HSWA. The main requirement on employers is to carry out risk assessments. An employer must assess whether it has taken sufficient precautions to prevent damage and injury. For example, there’s a legal duty on employers to conduct a risk assessment, which could include work-related stress, and to take action to address the risk where it has been identified.

Other regulations require action in response to particular hazards, or in industries where hazards are particularly high. The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 allows a company to be convicted if a gross breach of duty of care by management is proved. Individuals within a company can also be prosecuted for gross negligence manslaughter.

Guidance on health and safety issues and Approved Codes of Practice (ACOPs) are published by Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The ACOPs have special legal status: if employers fail to follow them and are then prosecuted for breaches of health and safety law, the court will find against the employer unless they can show compliance with the law in some other way. Following the guidance is not compulsory but is strongly advised.

In the UK, employers’ duties to provide a safe and healthy working environment arise from the core principles of negligence, contract, and numerous specific statutory duties.

As a minimum, employers should:

Publish a health and safety policy if they employ more than five people

  • Take out and maintain a compulsory insurance policy (Employers’ Liability Insurance), covering employees against accidents and ill health
  • Arrange for the appointment of health and safety representatives
  • Appoint a competent person to evaluate risks and hazards
  • Conduct risk assessments
  • Consult with employees and inform staff of risks and steps taken to protect them
  • Provide adequate safety training to address risks, as appropriate
  • Monitor and improve safety arrangements
  • Establish procedures to be followed in the event of serious and imminent danger to persons working in the organisation
  • Provide comprehensible and relevant health and safety information

See next issue for Part Two: policies and practices.

If you still want support, help is at hand! As a member of SAIF you can talk to a safety professional at Safety for Business by calling 08456 344164. You are also entitled to a discount on our fees when we help you with your health and safety needs. Safety for Business can visit you to see how you are doing when it comes to compliance. This is free of charge apart from travel costs.

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