Health and Safety at work – guide
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In the event of an accident at work, many people are still confused regarding where the responsibility lies. Health and Safety at work is an extremely important – yet surprisingly often overlooked – issue in UK workplaces, for employers as well as employees.
Work-related injury and liability claims are on the rise in the UK, so it is beneficial for all parties to know what the rules and regulations are in relation to Health and Safety in the workplace.
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The Health and Safety at Work Act
The Health and Safety at Work Act was first passed into law way back in 1974. The Act was designed in order to make absolutely clear that employers bear the majority of the responsibility when it comes to providing and maintaining a safe working environment for their employees.
Who is responsible for Health and Safety at my workplace?
With the Health and Safety Act 1974 enshrined in UK law, it is the sole responsibility of employers to ensure their workplace complies and provides a safe working environment for all staff and visitors.
Employees are still responsible for their own actions when at work – which means they must comply with all the relevant safety training and procedures provided by the employer at all time. However, if there is anything in the workplace which may put an employee’s health and safety at risk then the responsibility lies with the employer for this.
Employer’s Health and Safety responsibilities
As part of the Health and Safety at Work Act, there are several requirements employers must meet. Employers must:
- Make sure the workplace is as safe as possible in every way
- Keep all machinery and equipment well-maintained and safe to use
- Ensure that any and all kitchens, toilets and bathroom facilities comply with specific health and safety requirements
- Limit the exposure of their employees to any substances that could cause damage to health
- Effectively manage the risk posed by any flammable, electrical or explosive equipment in the workplace
- Reduce any manual handling that puts employee’s safety at risk as much as possible – and provide effective heavy-lifting training
- Make sure emergency plans are in place and all members of staff are aware of them (e.g. fire drills)
- Ensure that all protective clothing or equipment that employees need to carry out their job safely should be provided free of charge and is well-maintained
- Put up any necessary warning signs informing of any spillages and ensure that the signs are always clean and easy to read
- Report any accidents, injuries or work-related illnesses to the local authority
- Ensure that all employees are well-informed about best safety practices in the workplace
- Ensure that any hazardous materials are handled safely and by properly qualified employees
- Ensure that first aid facilities are easy accessible and that at least some of your employees are first aid trained
- Inform employees about any hazardous aspects of the job including dangerous chemicals or substances and any dangerous machinery. Ensure that they know what to do in the event of accidents and emergencies
Workplace risk assessments
All employers are required by law to carry out workplace risk assessments – regardless of what industry they operate in and the size of their workplace/workforce.
The risk assessments must be carried out by a responsible and competent person, who is selected internally to assess the health and safety status of the work environment on an ongoing basis to ensure it is safe for employees.
Whilst all businesses must carry out a risk assessment; larger businesses of five or more employees must also:
- Maintain an official assessment record of any risks that are found and a note of the necessary precautions put in place to eliminate or reduce these risks
- A full health and safety policy should be put in place that informs employees of the risks that they face and the best way to deal with accidents and emergencies
Health and Safety statistics
To understand just how big an issue Health and Safety at Work really is, it’s useful to view the statistics.
Below are the national figures for work-related injuries and deaths in 2012/13:
- 148 people were killed at their place of work
- 78,000 serious injuries to employees sustained at work
- 175,000 injuries that resulted in more than one week off work
- 1.1 million people suffering from work-related illnesses
- 27 million working days lost due to illness and injury
- £13.8 billion lost as a result of work-related deaths, injuries and illnesses in 2010 – 2011
What to do if you think your workplace is unsafe
If you have concerns that your place of work is not safe, then the first action your should take is to raise your concerns with your employer – either via the nominated Health and Safety representative of via your union rep.
Following this, if your employer fails to adequately address your concerns then you can pursue further action by alerting the environmental health department of your local authority.
How to claim for an accident at work
If you have sustained an injury at the workplace and you feel that it is a result of the environment being unsafe then you should put in a claim for compensation at the earliest possible date.
Personal injury claims have a three-year time limit, which means the claim must be made within three years of the injury being sustained or three years from the date of realising the injury or illness was as a result of a work-related hazard.
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