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.
- 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:
- 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?
- 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 email@example.com 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 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.
- 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.