All workers are entitled to work in an environment that is reasonably safe. Primary responsibility for ensuring health and safety in the work place is down to employers. However employees also have some responsibilities.
Your Employer’s responsibilities
Employers have a number of responsibilities to ensure the health and safety of their employees. These include:
- Assess any risks and put in place precautions to reduce them
- Explain any risks and how to avoid them to employees
- Provide employees, for free, with any training required for them to safely do their job
- Give employees, for free, any equipment or protective clothing required for them to safely do their job, and 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 (0345 300 9923) 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
Your Responsibilities as an Employee
Employees also have responsibilities at work to ensure their own health and safety, and the safety of fellow employees:
- Follow training provided to you by your employer
- Take reasonable care for your own safety
- Co-operate with your employer’s efforts to ensure your and other’s health and safety at work
- Tell your manager or employer’s Health and Safety Representative if you consider that the job or environment is putting your or anyone else’s 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 you are unwell, you are entitled to take time off work in order to recover. The first seven days you can self-certify. Any time off work over 7 days, you will need a note from your GP advising that you are unfit for work (often called a “sick note”).
Remember that you have a duty to look after your own health and safety at work. You should therefore only return to work when you are well enough to safely do your job.
You may need to initially return to work on reduced or “light” duties – for example not carrying out heavy manual handling tasks. Your employer should specifically assess the risks to you (in your current medical condition) of carrying out each task. They have a responsibility to make reasonable adjustments in order to ensure that you are safe at work.
However you also have a responsibility to stick to those amended duties until your employer says otherwise; if your employer has given you light duties, they have done so for a reason, and because they have assessed a particular risk to you.
2. Lone working
You 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.)
Your employer should in any assessment of risk specifically 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
Your 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 to carry out a heavy manual task working 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 by yourself with no one around you, 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 you do if your employer ignores your 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. (www.hse.gov.uk / 0300 003 1647)
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?
- Receive report
- Assess if the matter is something that they can and should look into further – within 24 hours, during the working week
- Let you know what action they are taking – within 21 days
- If you disagree with that decision, you can appeal – within 10 days of being told the decision. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish to appeal, and include any further information not already considered by HSE
- 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 your 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!