The law on health and safety at work

Source: CIPD

There are a vast number of different statutes governing safety issues, but health and safety is not only governed by legislation. Under what is known as ‘common law’ all employers have a duty of care imposed on them to protect their employees. There is also a term implied into all employment contracts requiring employers to take care of their employees’ health and safety. For example, employers must:

  • provide a safe place of work
  • provide a safe system of work
  • provide adequate plant and equipment
  • recruit competent and safety conscious staff.

If an employer fails to take reasonable care in any of these areas, an employee may have a number of claims, including the ability to resign and claim constructive unfair dismissal and a personal injury claim in appropriate cases.

Employees, too, have responsibilities and should work with their employer to develop a safe place of work.

Main legislation

The main piece of legislation is the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA). All work places are covered by this legislation which says that an employer must do everything reasonably practicable to provide a safe and healthy workplace with adequate welfare facilities. HSWA has been supported and extended by various sets of regulations, codes of practice and guidance, all of which deal with various aspects of health and safety. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is the government body which decides upon and implements health and safety policy. A complete list of relevant legislation can be found on the HSE website as well as a range of useful guidance material – see Useful contacts below.

Employers’ health and safety obligations

Employers’ duties to provide a safe and healthy working environment arise from the core principles of negligence, contract and the numerous specific statutory duties referred to above. Employers should at least:

  • publish a health and safety policy
  • arrange for the appointment of health and safety representatives
  • establish a health and safety committee if requested by a recognised trade union
  • appoint a competent person to evaluate risks and hazards
  • arrange periodic risk assessments
  • consult with employee health and safety representatives
  • prevent risks
  • inform staff of risks
  • combat risks at source
  • arrange protection from unavoidable risks
  • provide safety training
  • comply with the updated provisions concerning health and safety posters and leaflets
  • monitor and improve safety arrangements
  • provide health-risk surveillance
  • adapt work to the individual especially with respect to the design of workplaces
  • alleviate monotonous work
  • develop a prevention policy
  • appoint one or more competent persons to assist in undertaking preventive and protective measures
  • establish procedures to be followed in the event of serious and imminent danger to persons working in the organisation
  • require persons at work who are exposed to serious and imminent danger to be informed of the nature of the hazards and steps taken to protect them
  • provide comprehensible and relevant health and safety information
  • provide adequate health and safety training during working hours.

 

Producing a policy

All employers with more than five employees must have a statement of their health and safety policy. Employers with fewer than five employees may still find it useful to put health and safety procedure into writing. A written health and safety policy can be concise and still effective.

This statement must:

  • be written
  • be carefully thought through and demonstrate a commitment to managing health and safety
  • be workable
  • contain a general statement of intent to provide a safe and healthy working environment
  • be easily accessible and brought to the attention of all employees
  • give details of health and safety responsibilities within the organisation
  • name key individuals
  • cover the systems and procedures in place
  • refer to other documents where appropriate
  • cover managing risk assessments
  • include arrangements for employee consultation, maintaining equipment, safe handling of substances
  • explain arrangements for training, supervision, accidents, first aid and emergencies
  • address stress, and drink and drug misuse.

Policies should be produced after consultation with employees and after conducting surveys on staff attitudes to health and safety. They should be applied uniformly and there should be a system for regularly monitoring and reviewing the policy to ensure that it complies with current legislation.

Risk assessment

A risk assessment is a vigilant examination of what in a place of work could cause harm to people, so that the employer can assess whether they have taken sufficient precautions to prevent damage and injury. Every employer must make a regular assessment of their premises to assess a number of risks. Self-employed workers have a duty to assess risks to themselves and others.

There are many detailed regulations requiring that risks in different industries should be assessed and HSE provides a variety of useful guidance.

Following a risk assessment employers must record the significant findings, make arrangements to implement any necessary measures and arrange for the provision of appropriate information and training.

Accidents and disease at work

The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1985 (known as RIDDOR) require employers to report any of the following to the HSE or the local council at once:

  • fatal accidents
  • major injury or conditions which require medical treatment
  • dangerous occurrences.

Other matters should be reported immediately, preferably by telephone followed by a written report within seven days. These are:

  • accidents that prevent a worker from doing their normal work for more than three days
  • certain work-related diseases (poisoning, lung diseases, infections and other conditions must be reported when linked to specified types of work)
  • certain gas incidents.

Employers are legally obliged to provide first-aiders and inform all employees of the arrangements for getting first aid. Treatment of injured workers must be addressed without delay by an appointed first-aider.

An employer must record all workplace injuries, diseases, dangerous occurrences or certain near accidents in an accident book. Employees must also report any accidents or illnesses caused by work and record the details in the accident book.

Wellness and managing work-life balance

In his book Managing work-life balance1 David Clutterbuck defines work-life balance as:

  • being aware of different demands on time and energy
  • having the ability to make choices in the allocation of time and energy
  • knowing what values to apply to choices
  • making choices.

The world of work has changed and in the 24-hour, 7-day society, customers expect service at times that suit them. More and more people have to juggle responsibilities at home and in the workplace. And when employees are asked about work, the two concerns that emerge most frequently from the CIPD’s surveys on employee attitudes are long hours and work intensity.

In times of economic difficulty employers who work more flexibly can be more competitive with higher productivity and lower labour costs. On the other hand, employees may be less interested in reducing their working hours during difficult market conditions.

Although much of the discussion of work-life balance has focused on families, work-life balance is not just for women. Many men stand to benefit in their roles as fathers, partners or dependants. Society also benefits since stronger and more stable families provide good adult role models, fewer broken relationships and a reduction in crime and other anti-social behaviour. So everybody stands to benefit from policies to improve employees’ work-life balance.

What is the business case?

There are benefits to business when introducing policies to underpin work-life balance issues:

  • higher productivity and competitiveness
  • increased flexibility and customer service, for example to cover for absence and holidays
  • raised morale, motivation, commitment and engagement
  • reduced absenteeism
  • improved recruitment and retention of a diverse workforce
  • wanting to become an ‘employer of choice’
  • meeting legal requirements.

Employers may incur additional costs in adopting policies to support work-life balance, including increased managerial workloads. Such costs are however generally outweighed by the gains in achieving strategic objectives. The biggest obstacle to implementing good practice is in many cases the difficulty of persuading individual line managers to accept more flexible working arrangements. This resistance is often based on assumptions about the likely problems that flexibility will cause that often turn out to be unfounded.

Encouraging ‘wellness’ to improve health

If employees are encouraged to protect their health, this will enable them to deal more effectively with unavoidable stresses at work. Organisations can help by offering:

  • individual development plans and regular appraisals to provide an opportunity to review work-life balance on a regular basis
  • information and guidance on health issues
  • health screening
  • subsidised private healthcare
  • on-site exercise facilities or subsidised access to gyms, etc.

A cross-Government initiative ‘Health, Work and Well-being’ (see Useful contacts below) aims to protect and improve the health and well-being of all working people. It promotes positive links between health and work, building on the growing evidence that working is generally good for people’s health. It also aims to help more people with health conditions to find and stay in employment.

Successful action to develop a successful work-life strategy is as much about the process of making changes as about the changes themselves. An action plan should include the following elements:

  • Identify business need – so as to demonstrate to business colleagues how having a work-life strategy will benefit both the business and the workforce as a whole.
  • Adapt policies to match operational needs – by looking at both employee and business priorities and considering for example impact on customers, back-up arrangements to cover absence and training needs. Don’t simply copy-cat what other employers are doing.
  • Include measures for performance based on outcomes and results, not just on presence in the office alone.
  • Develop clear guidelines – as a basis for fair treatment and to help promote work-life balance policies to engage with line managers to gain commitment.
  • Lead from the top – identify a senior management champion and/or senior management role models who are using work-life balance benefits.
  • Communicate plans using a wide variety of methods to involve employees.
  • Monitor progress and draw lessons from experience – even piloting the practices in a section or division if necessary.

CIPD viewpoint

Ensuring that employees are safe and healthy at work has to be one of the fundamental requirements of the employer. Although the law is extensive in this area, it is important that employers view health and safety as a basic part of employment provision and not something that has to be addressed just because of the law.

Employers who invest in the health and well-being of their staff by ensuring their managers are equipped with people management skills and providing work-life balance opportunities for staff, as well as support to help those with health problems to return to work sooner rather than later, will benefit from enhanced employee engagement and lower levels of absence and staff attrition.

CIPD research shows that employees with flexible working patterns are more engaged than others. Engaged employees also typically have lower levels of stress. High performing organisations give high priority to people management and employ a range of policies to engage and empower their workforce, including work discretion and autonomy, high employee involvement and flexible working arrangements.

Useful contacts

 

 References

  1. CLUTTERBUCK, D. (2003) Managing work-life balance: a guide for HR in achieving organisational and individual change. London: CIPD.

Further reading

Books and reports

PECK, S. (2012) Health and safety law 2012. London: Labour Research Department.

STRANKS, J. (2008) Health and safety at work: an essential guide for managers. 8th rev ed. London: Kogan Page.

WALKER, S. (2010) Health and safety: law and practice for small to medium enterprises. Bingley: Emerald Group.

Visit the CIPD Store to see all our priced publications currently in print.

Journal articles

BARRETT, B. (2009) The Health and Safety (Offences) Act 2008: the cost of behaving dangerously in the workplace. Industrial Law Journal. Vol 38, No 1, March. pp73-79.

MCCARTHY, A., DARCY, C. and GRADY, G. (2010) Work-life balance policy and practice: understanding line manager attitudes and behaviors. Human Resource Management Review. Vol 20, No 2, June. pp158-167.

MORRIS, D. (2001) ‘How to draw up a health and safety policy.’ People Management. Vol 7, No 10, 17 May. pp50-51.

Posted in Health and Wellbeing