THE HEALTH AND SAFETY (OFFENCES) ACT 2008 AND THE HEALTH AND SAFETY AT WORK ETC ACT 1974
The law relating to Health and Safety can be found in the Health and Safety (Offences) Act 2008, the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and numerous Regulations and Orders which became law between 1948 – 2014.
According to the law, employers have a ‘duty of care’ to protect their employees from risk of harm as far as is ‘reasonably practicable’. It is a legal requirement for an employer to carry out a risk assessment to examine what in the workplace may cause harm to people, in order to weigh up whether enough precautions have been taken to prevent that harm. They must appoint a ‘competent person’ with health and safety responsibilities usually one of the owners in smaller firms, or a member of staff trained in health and safety.
‘Reasonably practicable’ means that an employer has taken action to control the health and safety risk in the workplace except where the cost (in terms of time and effort as well as money), of doing so is ‘grossly disproportionate’ to the reduction in the risk.
The assessment will involve identifying what can harm people in the workplace, identifying who might be harmed and how, evaluating the risks and deciding on the appropriate controls, recording the risk assessment and establishing a formal health and safety policy (a legal requirement if 5 or more people are employed) and reviewing and updating the assessment.
Employers are also responsible for any visitors to their premises including suppliers, customers and the general public.
THE EMPLOYER’S DUTY OF CARE IN PRACTICE
All employers, whatever the size of the business, must:
• make the work place safe
• prevent risks to health
• ensure that plant and machinery is safe to use
• ensure safe working practices are set up and followed
• make sure that all materials are handled, stored and used safely
• provide adequate first aid facilities
• tell employees about any potential hazards
• set up emergency plans
• make sure that ventilation, temperature, lighting, toilet, washing and rest facilities all meet health, safety and welfare requirements
• check that the right work equipment is provided and is properly used and regularly maintained
• prevent or control exposure to substances that may damage the health of its employers
• take precautions against the risks caused by flammable or explosive hazards, electrical equipment, noise and radiation
• avoid potential dangerous work involving manual handling
• provide health supervision as needed
• provide protective clothing or equipment free of charge
• ensure that the right warning signs are provided and maintained
• report certain accidents, injuries, diseases and dangerous occurrences
HEALTH AND SAFETY AND PREGNANCY
An employer must make a special assessment of the risks to pregnant mothers and their babies. If there are risks, the employer must either adjust working conditions and/or hours of work or offer other suitable work or suspend the employer from work for as long as necessary. An employee who has recently given birth or who is breast-feeding may also be suspended if continuing to work may damage the health of the employee or her baby.
While suspended the employee is entitled to full pay. If an employee refuses suitable alternative work the employer doesn’t have to pay the employee.
If there is suitable work available which an employer fails to offer a pregnant employee and instead suspends her from work, an employee can make a complaint to an Industrial Tribunal.
THE EMPLOYEE’S HEALTH AND SAFETY RESPONSIBILITIES
• to take reasonable care of his or hers own health and safety
• if possible avoid wearing jewellery or loose clothing when operating machinery
• if the employee has long hair, or wears a headscarf, this should be tucked out of the way to prevent it being caught in machinery
• to take reasonable care not to put other people – fellow employees and members of the public – at risk by their actions at work
• to co-operate with their employer, making sure they have the proper training and understand and follow the company’s health and safety policies
• not to interfere with or misuse anything that’s been provided for the health, safety or welfare of employees
• to report any injuries, strain or illnesses and to give the employer an opportunity to change the employee’s working methods
• to tell the employer if something occurs that may affect the ability of the employee to work such as incurring an injury or if an employee becomes seriously allergic to a chemical at work. As the employer has a legal responsibility for the employees health and safety, he or she may need to be suspended until the issue is resolved. This decision should be based on a risk assessment. The employee should normally be paid during this period although there are circumstances where this is not the case, for instance, where an employee unreasonably refuses other suitable work offered by the employer.
• if an employee drives or operates machinery, he or she must tell the employer if they are taking medication that makes them drowsy so that the employee can be moved to another job if there is one to do
If you think your employer has broken the law with regard to health and safety in your workplace you should first speak to your employer to try to resolve the problem and/or contact your work/safety representative, or your trade union safety representative who can try to resolve the issue on your behalf. If the problem isn’t resolved a complaint should be made to the relevant enforcing body, which may be the Health and Safety Executive or your Local Authority.
You can refuse to do something that isn’t safe without being threatened with disciplinary action. If you are dismissed for refusing to undertake an unsafe working practice, you may have a right to claim unfair dismissal at an Employment Tribunal.
MAKING A COMPLAINT
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is the national independent watchdog for work-related health, safety and illness. It is an independent regulator and acts in the public interest to reduce work-related death and serious injury in Great Britain’s workplaces.
You can refuse to do something that isn’t safe without being threatened with disciplinary action.
Your complaint should be directed to the HSE if your workplace is one of the following – factory, farm, building site, nuclear installation, mine, school or college, fairground, gas, electricity or water installation, hospital or nursing home, central or local government premises, offshore installation. This can be done by contacting the HSE’s Complaints and Advisory team..
You should complain to your local authority environmental health department if your complaint is regarding a shop, office (except a government office), hotel, restaurant, leisure premises, nursery or playgroup, pub or club, privately owned museum, place of worship, sheltered accommodation or care home.
The Enforcing body can visit your employer and give advice about how to keep employees safe. However if it considers that there has been a blatant disregard for the law, it can use its powers to require improvements or prosecute where appropriate.