Managing health and safety in the workplace should be high on the list of an employer’s activities. Our expert guide explains what health and safety is and employers’ legal responsibilities. No matter the size of a business or the sector it operates in, health and safety matters. All employers, employees, contractors, customers and visitors must be protected from harm.
In an ideal world, all workplaces would be completely safe, but the nature of some work activities means people can be exposed to injuries and illnesses. Those risks can be obvious such as someone falling off a ladder, or less visible hazards such as toxic fumes which can’t be seen.
Mental health and wellbeing must be considered, too, with employers ensuring that the stresses and pressures of work don’t negatively impact employees’ mental wellbeing.
Health and safety legislation exists to prevent or control workplace hazards. Even with the UK’s extensive regulatory regime, 693,000 people sustained an injury at work, 111 were killed, and 1.6 million suffered from a work-related illness in 2019/20. Understanding what health and safety is and how to effectively identify and control health and safety risks in an organisation is vital to prevent harm and ensure an organisation is compliant with legislation.
All employees are required to undergo health and safety training. Our Health and Safety Awareness Course helps ensure employees can work safely, identify workplace hazards and know how to report incidents and potential safety issues.
Why is health and safety important?
Health and safety is covered by legislation, regulations and guidance that mean employers have significant legal obligations to meet. Despite the negative headlines it can sometimes attract, health and safety isn’t about bureaucracy and red tape – it makes good business sense. Protecting employees, contractors, and the public means you’re also helping protect your organisation.
Employers who fail to comply with their fire, health and safety obligations risk:
- financial penalties and imprisonment;
- damage to reputation;
- loss of customers;
- reduced staff productivity and efficiency;
- reduced staff morale;
- increased staff absence;
- increased recruitment costs to replace lost employees;
- increased employee turnover;
- increased insurance costs.
An effective approach to fire, health and safety is good for employees, too as they have a basic expectation that they will be safe and secure at work. Knowing they are protected encourages a positive working environment with people who enjoy their work and want to deliver their best.
What is health and safety at work legislation?
There are many fire, health and safety laws, and it is an employer’s responsibility to understand the health and safety at work laws, approved codes and guidance that apply to their organisation.
Some of the critical pieces of legislation in helping understand what health and safety is in the workplace are:
Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974
The primary piece of legislation covering occupational health and safety in Great Britain, HSWA (also known as the HSW Act, the 1974 Act or HASAWA), places a general duty on employers to manage the health and safety of employees and others such as customers and contractors. Learn more about the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 in our guide.
Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
Also known as the ‘Management Regs’, these regulations place an explicit legal duty on employers to assess and manage health and safety risks in the workplace. Read more about the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 in our guide.
Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005
Also known as the RRO, it places duties on those that have control over premises (Responsible Person) to take reasonable steps to reduce the risk from fire and make sure people can safely escape if there is a fire. The means to achieving this is via a fire risk assessment undertaken by someone who is competent.
Learn more about our fire risk assessment consulting services.
Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992
These regulations cover the responsibilities of employers, managers, safety representatives and employees for controlling and reducing the risk of injury in the workplace due to manual handling operations. Learn about the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 in our guide.
Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR)
RIDDOR covers employers’ obligations for recording and reporting accidents, injuries and ill health at work.
Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations
These regulations outline how employers must prevent, reduce or control exposure to hazardous substances that could cause ill health to employees or visitors. Read our guide to learn what is COSHH and how organisations should implement it.
What are the critical health and safety issues to consider?
The health and safety issues employers must consider when protecting employees and others from harm are extensive.
Key areas include:
Employers must implement measures to prevent accidents and ill health from occurring or reduce the hazards that cause them. That includes manual handling, slips and trips, fire safety, electrical safety, using workplace equipment and handling hazardous substances.
Employers must protect employees and others from work-related illnesses such as those resulting from asbestos exposure, Legionella bacteria, musculoskeletal disorders and poor preparation and handling of food.
Bullying, harassment and physical violence
Bullying, harassment or physical violence, between employees and from customer safety should form part of an organisation’s risk assessment profile. Health and safety law requires employers to provide a safe working environment and systems of work, and have policies and arrangements for handling conflict and violence in the workplace.
Stress and mental health
Work-related stress can have an impact on people’s mental and physical health. They may also have a pre-existing mental health condition, such as anxiety and depression, aggravated or made worse by their work. By law, employers must protect employees from stress and understand how work-related mental health issues impact employees. Employers need to carry out a risk assessment to highlight the risks, act on them and make reasonable adjustments.
An estimated 17,000 people suffer deafness, noise induced hearing loss, ringing in the ears or other ear-related conditions after being exposed to excessive noise at work. Under the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 (Noise Regulations 2005), employers must assess noise in the workplace, prevent or reduce risks to health and safety from exposure to noise at work.
How can employers foster a safe workplace?
There are several steps employers must take to maintain a safe working environment. They include:
By law, employers must assess workplace risks and put measures in place to prevent, control or reduce them. A risk assessment should include these five steps:
1. Identify the hazards and risks that could cause illness or injury.
2. Decide who could be harmed and how seriously.
3. Put in place measures to remove the hazards or control the risks.
4. Record the findings and implement the controls.
5. Review the assessment to ensure it remains effective.
Businesses with over five employees must record risk assessments in writing. Recording assessments is always a good idea and will help with providing information, training and reviews.
A fire, health and safety compliance audit can help you understand how well you comply with your legal obligations for health and safety and identify any gaps in your management system.
Employers are legally required to provide health and safety training to employees. Everyone at all levels, including employers, managers, supervisors, contractors, and self-employed people, needs to have sufficient training levels and be competent.
Employers must give training in many circumstances, including during induction for new employees and for people who change roles, take on new responsibilities or become exposed to new or increased risks.
Training can range from sending employees on a health and safety awareness course to more specialist training such as working with asbestos. Employers should train managers and supervisors in managing safety in their area of responsibility.
Reporting and recording
Under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR), employers must report the following to the Health and Safety Executive:
- Fatal injuries.
- Specified non-fatal injuries.
- Occupational diseases.
- Dangerous occurrences.
- Incidents resulting in an employee being away from their normal work activities for seven days or more.
- Incidents involving injured members of the public being taken to hospital from the scene of the accident.
- Incidents involving gases where people have been taken to hospital.
Communication with employees
Consulting and communicating with employees is essential to good health and safety practices. Employers must inform them of the results of risk assessments and the measures they put in place to prevent and control risk. There should be an ongoing dialogue with employees about their work, the risks they face, accident and incident reporting, and the training they need.
Make sure your employees are aware of workplace health and safety issues with our Health and Safety Awareness training. It’s IOSH Approved and CPD Certified and gives employees the information they need to work safely.