Imagine you’re at work in a busy manufacturing facility. A piece of machinery begins to vibrate unusually, potentially creating a risk of injury or malfunction. Do you report it? Or ignore it and assume it’s someone else’s role?
Although this example is specific to a manufacturing setting, it is emblematic of the proactivity and shared responsibility mindset all businesses should have.
Responding to obvious hazards like water on the floor or improperly stored equipment is essential. However, proper hazard perception should go beyond the plain.
In this article, we’ll unpack employees’ responsibilities for health and safety. We’ll also give you a better understanding of occupational safety and the employee’s role in creating a safety culture.
Who is Responsible for Health and Safety in the Workplace?
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) dictates that management of workplace health and safety is the employer’s responsibility – as far as is reasonably practicable.
However, while the company has a legal obligation to provide a healthy and safe working environment (per the Health and Safety Work Act 1974) (HASWA), all employees must maintain that safe environment.
A more accurate answer to the question of who is responsible for health and safety at work is: All workers, including managers, supervisors, or general operatives, are duty-bound to meet the employer’s expectations.
Now that we know occupational safety and health (OSH) is also the responsibility of employees, let’s explore those duties in more detail.
Specific Employee Duties for Health and Safety
Section 7 of HASWA outlines the duties of employees in maintaining a safe and healthy workplace.
The legislation dictates that, while employees are at work, they should take reasonable care for their own and others’ health and safety, which may be affected by the employee’s actions or omissions.
So, what duties of the employee in health and safety should you be aware of? Let’s take a look.
Familiarising yourself with company policies and procedures
Employers should provide employees with a copy of company policies and procedures during their first day. At this point, it is the responsibility of the worker to learn and understand the safety policies.
While all businesses are covered by the overarching statutes of HASWA, industry-specific best practices, checklists, and guidance further define employee duties to ensure safety is paramount in all sectors.
Additionally, the Health and Safety Information for Employees Regulations 1989 mandate that employers should either display the HSE-approved law poster or provide it in leaflet form to each employee.
This poster gives workers a further understanding of significant health and safety information, such as the compulsory provision of free training and business-employee cooperation.
Following safety protocols and using equipment correctly
In 2021, 705 workers died, and in 2020, 196,140 were injured as a result of coming into contact with objects and equipment at work.
To defend against these damning stats, employers should ensure guidance and literature about operating safely is readily available. This knowledge can include:
- Safety signs and posters
- Warning devices
- Emergency safety plans
- Personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Hygiene tools
Items such as PPE and safety controls are commonplace in manufacturing and construction environments.
However, as we mentioned earlier, employees should familiarise themselves with the specific nuances of health and safety guidance in their given sector.
Attending health and safety training sessions
There are a wealth of options out there when it comes to health and safety training courses. But they are incredibly useful for bringing your workforce up to speed with current legislation and procedural standards.
Moreover, actively pursuing employee training is a proactive step toward creating a positive safety culture in your business. Training also demonstrates to staff that the business is serious about personnel well-being.
But it’s not just workplace culture that training can improve. Establishing a commitment to employee education (OSH or otherwise) has been proven to enhance worker retention. In fact, retention rates rise by 30-50% for companies that demonstrate strong learning cultures.
Reporting accidents, incidents, or near misses promptly
Earlier, we said that employees are duty-bound to meet the OSH expectations of the employer. One of the biggest steps to ensuring cooperation is reporting risks, hazards, near misses, or potential risks.
Effective recognition and reporting of hazards can:
- Reduce the number of workplace injuries, illnesses, and associated costs.
- Improve employee health, well-being, and work capacity.
- Encourage innovation and risk mitigation measures.
- Reduce the likelihood of repeat incidents occurring.
Legal obligations to reporting incidents
Timely incident reporting can enable the organisation to complete necessary investigations and implement corrective measures. Additionally, swift reporting can also allow companies to comply with the guidance of RIDDOR.
RIDDOR stands for the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases, and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013. It refers to the law placed on employers to report and keep a record of serious work-related accidents, diseases, and near misses.
Participating in regular inspections or risk assessments to identify hazards
While the primary responsibility for conducting regular inspections falls on the employer, the active involvement of employees can help prevent accidents and injuries.
Additionally, conducting regular risk assessments or safety audits can highlight potentially hazardous situations or areas for improvement.
Enrolling employees in courses like the HABC Level 2 Award in Risk Assessment can give workers the knowledge they need to mitigate workplace risk.
Taking this one-day course also enhances employee career development by placing internationally recognised accreditations on their CV.
One way of ensuring the uptake of risk assessment training with your workforce is by including it in your company’s health and safety KPIs. Making this commitment puts a stronger emphasis on this skill acquisition.
Mental Health and wellbeing
A recent survey by CIPHR, which quizzed 2,000 UK workers, found that 23% of employees said work generally made them feel stressed.
Employers are legally obliged to provide a working environment that is as stress-free as possible (again, as far as is reasonably practical). But it’s important to highlight that individuals are also responsible for their well-being.
Coping with stress at work is difficult. But there are steps you can take to help manage it –
- Learn how to recognise the signs of stress.
- Create an action plan that determines what stresses you and keeps you well.
- Try different coping techniques, such as mindfulness.
- Look after your physical health to improve your mental well-being.
- Build up your support network – this could be friends, family, your HR department, or your fellow team members.
Collaborating with Employers for a Safe Work Environment
Collaboration and open communication are imperative for creating a safe and healthy work environment for all.
From involving workers in hazard analysis processes to encouraging staff to talk about mental health, there are several avenues businesses can take to improve safety standards through communication.
Health and Safety Communication in the Workplace
Effective communication creates successful collaboration between employees and employers. The same goes for creating a healthy and safe work environment.
In a recent HSE case study, Devonport Royal Dockyard’s team reduced their work-related accident count by 35% by embedding new safety measures.
One such measure was implementing a staff “Time Out for Safety” session every Monday.
During these sessions, workers were encouraged to bring any safety matters to the team leader’s attention and discuss ideas for safer working.
Providing feedback and suggestions on existing safety measures
Gaining employee feedback on existing safety measures is a vital cog in maintaining a collaborative workplace.
Employees carrying out daily duties are more familiar with hazards and potential risks. So, encouraging them to give feedback on safety concerns via relevant authorities is a must.
However, gaining employee insights doesn’t need to be a labour-intensive process. The acts outlined below can give you the feedback you need in a clean and simple way:
- Safety committees or safety audits
- Regular inspections
- Health and Safety Survey Forms
Participating in safety committee meetings or discussions
As we saw from the Devonport case study earlier, implementing group discussions can have a lasting impact on your business’s safety culture.
Mike Tabb, Convenor and Health and Safety Representative, Amicus/Unite, said of those efforts by Devonport employees:
“This sounds long-winded, but it works. Staff are starting to believe that management is serious about [health and] safety.”
As Mike said, these meetings or regular collaborative events highlight to workers that their well-being is paramount.
Additionally, a recent study by IOSH found that organisations with a proactive approach to health and safety management like this tend to enjoy better profit margins.
Creating a Culture of Safety Among Employees
Fostering a safety culture among employees is the key to a secure and productive workplace. But it requires a deeper commitment from the business than simply everyone agreeing to follow the best practices.
Creating a strong safety culture in your business starts with the senior management team and trickles down to the employee level.
Of course, encouraging the reporting of risks and hazards plays a massive part in creating this culture. But so too does management safety training.
Health and safety promotion through communication channels
As mentioned, employees are regularly the first to identify risks in their daily work environment.
Cultivating an atmosphere that encourages workers to voice these issues is incredibly important for your overall safety standards.
Setting regular safety meetings, as the team did at Devonport, will allow you to:
- Assess how well-informed employees are on the latest safety guidelines.
- Keep the management team across new risks.
- Make employees advocates for workplace safety.
- Allow for thorough risk investigations and effective root cause analysis.
- Flag potential risks to employee mental well-being.
- Highlight potential training opportunities.
You should also think about circulating insight-laden newsletters with views on the importance of work health and safety.
Furthermore, eye-catching posters (like the HSE one) can be attached to bulletin boards for communicating important or evergreen information.
Encourage employees to share safety tips and practices
By empowering employees with the ability to share any OSH tips, you help further establish the atmosphere of ownership.
Encouraging a thought-sharing culture simultaneously engenders a sense of belonging while strengthening the ‘team’ ethic.
In turn, this healthy environment fosters a sense of accountability around target acquisition. That attitude then stretches from work to well-being goals and helps maintain a safe environment.
In addition, when you create this culture, it also means you have the chance to make the most of any employee training opportunities. Knowledge-sharing employees can disseminate course-fed experiences to the business.
This means you could send one worker on a course assuming that, when they return, they will effectively leverage their new knowledge to educate the wider team.
Reward employees who practise exemplary adherence to policies
Another powerful motivator for creating a safe workplace is acknowledging and rewarding adherence.
Privileges can be as simple as verbal recognition or more goal-focused, like structured company awards to highlight top performers.
Alternatively, you could think about leveraging gamification in your OSH training. Gamification is an incredibly successful educational tool as it speaks to three fundamental learning behaviours:
- People learn better by doing.
- If people enjoy what they do, they are likelier to continue doing it.
- Most people thrive on competition.
Utilising tools like online quizzes made in applications like Kahoot or Quizlet has been proven to enhance information retention. Similarly, role-play scenarios or simulations can be perfect for retaining key learnings.
You could then think about incentivising the uptake of health and safety courses.
Continued Learning for Better Health and Safety Practices
The health and safety sector continues to flex and adapt to new requirements. Fortunately, this means opportunities for continuous learning are abundant.
Whether through course completion, qualification achievement, or simply staying across industry updates, engaging in lifelong learning can take many forms.
Strengthening professional development of health and safety topics
Continuing professional development in health and safety is necessary in the ever-evolving landscape of workplace safety.
As a sidebar to personal development, gaining OSH accreditations can significantly impact career prospects.
Keeping up-to-date with industry standards and regulatory requirements
As an employer, you are legally obliged to stay as up-to-date with OSH policies as possible. Failure to keep up with legislation could result in strict financial penalties or even prison time.
To put it a different way, the average fine for businesses found to be non-compliant with HSE regulations rose 35% to £145,000 in 2020/21.
However, staying up-to-date on HSE rules can be as simple as attending annual workshops and training sessions. Plus, you can stay on top of the latest industry and regulatory guidelines by:
- Utilising online resources.
- Engaging in knowledge-sharing within industry networks.
- Subscribing to regulatory updates.
- Conducting internal audits.
- Seeking legal advice (when needed).
Embracing new technologies for improved health and safety practices
Cutting-edge technologies and tools can help shape your knowledge to be as keen as possible.
For example, new tech like augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR) is already being utilised to give learners a better understanding of risk perception.
Employers will continue to be the party extrinsically responsible for overall workplace safety standards.
However, as we have demonstrated throughout this piece, there are clear benefits to ensuring staff throughout the business understand their responsibilities, too.