This is a brief guide to health and safety law. It does not describe the law in detail, but it does list the key points.
The health, safety and welfare at work of your employees are protected by law. You have a responsibility to protect your employees and keep them informed about health and safety.
Which laws apply?
The basis of British health and safety law is the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, which sets out employers’ general duties towards employees and members of the public.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 clarify what employers are required to do to manage health and safety under the Health and Safety at Work Act. Like the Act, they apply to every work activity.
What does health and safety law require?
You have a duty under the law to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, your employees’ health, safety and welfare at work. In other words, the degree of risk in a particular job or workplace needs to be balanced against time, trouble, cost and the physical difficulty of taking measures to avoid or reduce the risk. What the law requires here is what good management and common sense would lead you to do anyway: that is, to look at what the risks are and take sensible measures to tackle them.
You must consult with your employees, or employee safety representative, on matters relating to their health and safety at work, including:
- any change which may substantially affect their health and safety at work, e.g. in procedures, equipment or ways of working;
- your arrangements to get competent people to help you satisfy health and safety laws;
- the information you have given your employees on the likely risks and danger arising from their work measures to reduce or get rid of these risks what they should do if they have to deal with a risk or danger;
- the planning of health and safety;
- the health and safety consequences of introducing new technology.
In general, your duties as an employer include:
- making your workplace safe and without risks to health;
- ensuring plant and machinery are safe and that safe systems of work are set and followed;
- ensuring articles and substances are moved, stored and used safely;
- providing adequate welfare facilities;
- giving your employees the information, instruction, training and supervision necessary for their health and safety.
In particular, you must:
- assess the risks to your employees’ health and safety. Risk assessment should be straightforward in a simple workplace such as a typical office. It should only be complicated if it deals with serious hazards such as those on a nuclear power station, a chemical plant, laboratory or an oil rig.
- make arrangements for implementing the health and safety measures identified as being necessary by the assessment;
- if there are five or more employees, record the significant findings of the risk assessment and the arrangements for health and safety measures;
- if there are five or more employees, draw up a health and safety policy statement, including the health and safety organisation and arrangements in force, and bring it to your employees’ attention;
- appoint someone competent to assist with health and safety responsibilities, and consult your employees or employee representative about this appointment;
- co-operate on health and safety with other employers sharing the same workplace;
- set up emergency procedures;
- provide adequate first-aid facilities;
- make sure the workplace satisfies health, safety and welfare requirements, e.g. for ventilation, temperature, lighting, and sanitary, washing and rest facilities;
- make sure that work equipment is suitable for its intended use, so far as health and safety are concerned, and that it is properly maintained and used;
- prevent or adequately control exposure to substances which may damage your employees’ health;
- take precautions against danger from flammable or explosive hazards, electrical equipment, noise and radiation;
- avoid hazardous manual handling operations, and where they cannot be avoided, reduce the risk of injury;
- provide health surveillance as appropriate;
- provide free any protective clothing or equipment, where risks are not adequately controlled by other means;
- ensure that appropriate safety signs are provided and maintained;
- report certain injuries, diseases and dangerous occurrences to the appropriate health and safety enforcing agency.
Source: Health and Safety Executive
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