Health & Safety Rights & Responsibilities at Work

All workers have the right work in an environment that is safe. Most responsibility for ensuring health and safety in the workplace is down to employers. However employees also have some responsibilities. Our guide looks at the rights and responsibilities around health and safety in the workplace.

Employer’s Health & Safety Responsibilities

Employers have a number of responsibilities to ensure the health and safety of their employees.

Employers should:

  • Assess any workplace risks and put in place precautions to reduce them.
  • Explain any risks and how to avoid them to employees.
  • Provide employees with any training needed for them to safely do their job.
  • Give employees, for free, any PPE equipment or protective clothing required for them to safely do their job. Also ensure that equipment is properly looked after or replaced when necessary
  • Provide access to toilets, washing facilities and drinking water for all employees.
  • Provide access to adequate first aid facilities.
  • Report major injuries or fatalities to the Incident Contact Centre and report other more serious injuries to HSE.
  • Have insurance that provides cover in case employees are injured at work.
  • Work closely with any contractors and other businesses using the work area to ensure the health and safety of their employees.

Employee Health & Safety Responsibilities

Employees also have responsibilities at work to ensure their own health and safety, and the safety of fellow employees:

Employees should:

  • Follow training provided by the employer.
  • Take reasonable care for their own safety.
  • Co-operate with the employer’s efforts to ensure health and safety at work.
  • Tell a manager or employer’s Health and Safety Representative if they consider that the job or environment is putting health at risk.

Risks Requiring Special Attention

There are a number of situations in which health and safety should be given special attention:

1. Coming back to work after time off

If a worker is unwell, they are entitled to take time off work in order to recover.

The first seven days can be self-certified. Any time off work over 7 days, a note is needed from a GP advising that the employee is unfit for work (often called a “fit note”).

Employees should be aware they have a duty to look after their own health and safety at work. They should therefore only return to work when they are well enough to safely do their job.

Employees may need to initially return to work on reduced or “light” duties. For example not carrying out heavy manual handling tasks. The employer should specifically assess the risks to a returning worker (taking medical condition into consideration) of carrying out each task. They have a responsibility to make reasonable adjustments in order to ensure workers stay safe at work.

However workers also have a responsibility to stick to those amended duties until the employer says otherwise.

2. Lone working

An employer should have specifically assessed the risks of carrying out each task for a lone worker. For example working at height or using chemicals is likely to be more dangerous for a lone worker if they do not have others around them to assist should first aid be required.

The employer should in any assessment of risk consider:

  • Whether work is to be done at night.
  • Any risk of violence towards employees.
  • Whether the use of harmful substances is required.
  • Procedures for keeping in touch with lone workers.
  • Access to first aid services if required by a lone worker.

The employer should carry out this assessment for each individual, specifically considering their medical suitability for a lone working role.

For example, it may not be advisable to have someone with a heart problem and history of strokes carry out a heavy manual task as a lone worker. This is because the manual labour may increase their risk of further injury, and working alone, they may not have anyone around them to provide first aid if required.

Remember: Being a “lone worker” does not necessarily mean working alone with no one around, and so the risk must be assessed on a case by case basis.

For example a technician who fixes photocopiers may be a “lone worker”, but actually spend every day in an office environment surrounded by other people. That is a very different situation to a security guard who is the only person on a large construction site.

What Can Workers Do if an Employer Ignores Safety Concerns?

If you have told your employer about your concerns, but they aren’t willing to listen or don’t take action, you can report your concerns to the Health and Safety Executive.

Remember that if you are a “whistle-blower”, your employment rights are protected your employer can’t treat you any differently as a result.

What is HSE’s procedure to deal with a report?

  1. Receive report.
  2. Assess if the matter is something that they can and should look into further – within 24 hours, during the working week
  3. Let you know what action they are taking – within 21 days.
  4. If you disagree with that decision, you can appeal – within 10 days of being told the decision. Email if you wish to appeal, and include any further information not already considered by HSE
  5. HSE will let you know the result of the appeal, usually by email.

Ensuring Health and Safety in the work place is the responsibility of everyone, not just the employer. If you see something that is dangerous, report it.

If you can think of a safer way to carry out a task, speak to your employer about changing their standard practice.

Further Reading

  • What happens when the health & safety inspector visits? We explain what happens when an inspector assesses a workplace, and what powers they have to take action.

22 thoughts on “Health & Safety Rights & Responsibilities at Work

  1. Bob says:

    Some horror stories here join the gmb Union protect your self and your family . Tribunal cases offer a pittance even if 100 percent successful. Mobilise your workplace

  2. Mac says:

    I work alone at night loading then unloading my truck with no one else on site on one occasion I had an upset stomach and had to go to the toilet but there is not 1 on site that is available I’m now suspended and will probably be sacked tomorrow can someone help me I will lose my house and everything if this happens

  3. Concerned says:

    My partner has been working around 70 hours a week (due to a loss of staff through redundancy) and on a 40% paycut associated with covid and I worry he’s on the verge of a breakdown. His job is at risk, he has clients demanding quick deadlines and is bombarded with calls and emails all day which makes it hard for him to focus on work. He has no interest in life, feels hopeless and is in despair. He isn’t sleeping well, is constantly exhausted, and has developed chronic stomach problems requiring medication. He’s about to take a week off (1st break since Xmas!) but is so anxious about all the work he has to do before he goes away and the accumulation of work in his absence that he doesn’t really want to take a break. He’s repeatedly told his boss the work situation is unmanageable and that he’s had enough but nothing changes. His boss won’t ask clients to change deadlines as they will take their business elsewhere. He can’t afford to quit as his industry is making mass redundancies due to covid. Is there anything he can do?

  4. caz says:

    my partner started a new job. He left his full-time job to start this job as was only 5mins away from where we live. He had concerns about health and safety. The wanted him to go up 8ft to stand on barrels to move other barrels he refused to do it. The following week He was told would need to stay later the next day as van never arrived with stores. His finishing time was 4pm he stayed till 4.30 as van load still never arrived. He went into work next day and was sacked. His employer said it was because He walked off without telling anybody due to health and safety. My partner thinks this has just been an excuse because he refused to to due job wk before due to health and safety. He was still on probation can he take this matter further. Also my partner has said they have a serious issue with not complying with health and safety supposed to be bad. He left a full time job to go here as was nearer home. Now he has no job.

  5. Bez says:

    My husband just started working in this factory where both the owner and some employees are smoking inside. He keeps telling them off so many times because it’s not right and he doesn’t smoke. They’ve even laughing and told him it would be worst during winter because all windows are shut. I’m afraid my husband’s health is truly at risk of in this factory. And aside from smoking they don’t have any breaks and there are no protective gear provided to protect your ears from loud noises cause by the machines or equipment. I don’t want him to lose his job and I don’t want him to be a second hand smokers’ victim. The people there are not bad but the company needs to comply with rules for health and safety.

  6. Fearful says:

    I am an essential worker (was not my choice) now for my company since March. All my coworkers now work from home. I work in a lower level of my office building alone that requires me to use an elevator that has been known to get stuck. I am terrified to use it, but need to in order to do my job. When we were altogether, I did get stuck and I had a bad panic attack. Now that I am alone, I regusr to use it ad I fear getting another panic attack. What are my rights as an employee in this situation?

  7. Rosie says:

    I’ve been working in a retail shop for quite some time. The shop is always dirty and dusty. I have a severe dust allergy and i can’t breathe while in the shop some days, still my co workers and managers refuse to clean. If i have a problem it’s my responsibility to deal with it on my own. I try my best to clean when i can but i have so much work to do i can’t clean the whole shop.

  8. Les says:

    I have a office at work with a computer desk and chair whilst I’ve been on furlough, they have taken the chair away and raised the computer and told me I have to stand now sometimes I will have to be on the computer up to an hour but now have to do this stood up. Are they in there rights to do this as after a bit it starts hurting my lower back ?

  9. Caz says:

    I carry out housing related support and I’ve asked for support not to be in the area that I live, due to the nature of the clients I support. I been met with complete hostility by this request. What are my right. Work in a team of 30 and I’m the only person living in area I’ve requested not to work in…

  10. Eileen says:

    My husband works in a cogen power plant 12 hour shifts. Which are rotating shifts. On the night shift he is the only one there (alone), reading the control room equipment for the steam turbine, emissions, etc……then during the shift he is required to leave the control room to go outside and do the readings (3) times a night…….on this 12 hour night shift, he will get (1) call to make sure he is ok…Is this against the labor laws.

  11. Stace says:

    My employer is ignoring manual handling and making us work using bad manual handling lifting out of a big tub cant bend knees and lifting with back. For a full shift. Have spoke to them on several occasions just to be ignored looking for a bit of advice

  12. Djgtl says:

    I drive a company van. Police saw it parked and as I approached they asked if I was driver and advised tyres illegal. I said that I would sort same day and phoned employer to tell him. He said they could not be changed that day. If I refuse to drive he will stop my pay (meaning I cannot pay rent) or worse will sack me. I have only been with company 6 months so do not think I can go to tribunal. But if I drive home and police check again I will be fined and have points. Please advise. DJGTL

  13. king says:

    I have a fractured spine and I was wondering if I could get my employer to allow me to have a chair or something due to standing will cause major pain in my spine.

  14. Laney says:

    Worked for 3 years as nurse for private care provider, huge issues with safe moving and handling practices, lack of equipment. Unacceptable practice by certain care staff under my responsibility as nurse in charge. What can I do to resolve this is impacting on my physical and mental health

  15. Mummylyn says:

    After being in nursing for many years I have since started work in retail. The shop I work in wont pay for any security guard even though thefts happen each and every day. My concern is we as retail staff are expected to watch follow and confront shoplifters most or all of them are known drug addicts. Now my concern is am I within my rights for my own safety to refuse to act as shop security? I have had no security training and I feel I am putting my own safety at risk by being expected to act as security. What are my rights please

  16. Niky says:

    Hi guys. I have just one question. I have really strong Depression, but I was sick one shift ago for another reason. Can the Company fire me if I’m in Probation time still till 18th November…?? Many thanks for answer. Niky

  17. Sas says:

    I work for a large supermarket on the tobacco/lottery kiosk which is extremely busy. There is only ever one person on this department 90% of the time – is this legal?

  18. Sas says:

    I work for a large supermarket and the ‘offer displays’ cover the fire extinguishers so no one knows they are there. If there were a fire only trained personnel can use them. Therefore if it took that person to get from the far side of the shop surely that puts me and customers at risk? I have informed 2 managers about this and have been told the H&S guy is working nights and would be informed. This was 2 weeks ago and nothing has changed.

  19. Paul says:

    Hi I work for a sweet distrubtion company all we do is distribute we don’t make or prepare anything. I know it’s not a good thing to do but I had a dry throat so I spat on the floor now I’m suspended and I’m going to have a meeting with management next week. We were never briefed about spitting on the floor or anything like that. What can i do to protect my job when i go back for my meeting?

  20. Nick says:

    inwork For a thrift store and for the most part it’s fun. We work inside sheltered from most. Though roof work had started as they are laying down the new tar. With this more heat had came in -> drink more water, a foul smell is being introduced(told it won’t effect anyone negatively) though it gives head aches and makes people feel sick to their stomach, and dust is falling from the metal beams or “smut” which is why I’m here. This smut caused everyone at my table to get itchy eyes, itchy everything really, and breathing it in created a cough and eventually a burning throat. Most people went home at half time. The next day my throats still burning therefore I called in sick(it’s actually more so just a pain now,swallowing a a hassle). For doing so I lose my stat pay for Monday as I can’t work the current Friday because I got sick at work causing me to leave before I became anymore I’ll than I am. I’d there not a law that protects me from this? They did allow us to leave without us worrying but this just feels wrong. I shouldn’t have to get sick at work and lose time working because I got Ill at work.

  21. Carmel says:

    I currently work for a large car manufacturers. I have now had 4 episodes of anaphylaxis due to a fellow colleague repatedly breaking the rules and spraying perfume on the factory floor. My managers are aware of my allergy and have turned a blind eye. They told me its not classed as an incidebt at work and is not work related. They have failed to investigate or do anything about it. In fact i now feel intimidated and victimised by them. I n the meantime i am expected to return to duties knowing that next time i could die. The union reps will not stand up to the managers so i am banging my head as to what i can do.please advise

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