Health and safety in the workplace

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Workplace health and safety policies comply with UK law and exist to keep everyone safe and healthy.

If you have responsibility for health and safety at work, or manage risks, part of your task is striking a balance between legal, moral and fiscal needs.

Key points

  • Health and safety isn’t just about complying with the law, you have moral and fiscal responsibilities too
  • If workplace health and safety didn’t exist, injuries, work-related ill health and deaths would be a normal part of working life.
  • You must have a health and safety policy if you have five employees or more

UK workplace health and safety laws

Workplace health and safety isn’t a spectator sport – we all have a part to play.

This has been the case since 1974, when the Health and Safety at Work Act was introduced to UK workplaces.

Businesses have an even mixture of legal, moral and fiscal considerations. That balance allows them to run more productively, earn money and as a result of compliance and good management, keep the staff safe.

If you are starting down the road of health and safety, know this – the law is a roadmap to success.

It doesn’t provide all the answers, but it does signpost a way to succeed.

Why is health and safety important when you’re at work?

Health and safety policies and procedures protect your wellbeing in the workplace and safeguard your company’s future.

Injuries, work-related ill health and deaths would be more frequent if workplace health and safety didn’t exist.

It would increase costs for employers scrambling to cover absence, legal costs and fines

If an employer hasn’t assessed the working environment or considered UK health and safety laws, it’s not possible to work safely.

We need to be fit and healthy to continue to work and earn money. It funds our way of life and keeps the economy moving.

If you work in a safe environment which is also profitable, you earn the money you want, the business earns the money it wants, we all keep to the rules we agreed to and everyone wins.

We are all making moral, legal and fiscal decisions every day both in and outside of work, so to incorporate all of them into our decision-making process will ensure balance, using the law just acts as an aide memoir for the parameters society agreed should be in place.

Keeping safe at work means we can do it all again tomorrow.

Who is responsible for workplace health and safety?

Employers are always responsible, but health and safety managers, or those with responsibility, must regularly update their health and safety training to keep their skills relevant to the requirements UK law.

The official answer from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is:

“It is an employer’s duty to protect the health safety and welfare of their employees and other people who might be affected by their business. Employers must do whatever is reasonably practicable to achieve this.”

This gives you the impression that employers are the only ones with duties.

We all have a responsibility for health and safety, not just the employer to succeed. We need each other to create an environment that benefits both parties, not just one.

Mutual effort creates a health and safety culture that shares values and beliefs. It is here where the responsibility truly lies, get this bit right, and most health and safety falls into place.

Does health and safety get in the way of progress?

Health and Safety shouldn’t get in the way of good business, it should complement it and we should all take on the responsibility and in some cases burden to ensure that it works out.

What are the main health and safety regulations?

The main set of regulations in health and safety are the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

These regulations sit just above the other regulations because they are designed to provide more detailed information on what an employer needs to do to manage health and safety.

This is where you will also hear people talk also about risk assessments, as regulation 3 of the management regs discusses the need for employers to undertake suitable and sufficient assessments of risk so that you can identify what risks employees will be exposed to whilst undertaking their work.

Other notable regulations are the Workplace Regulations 1992 which cover a wide range of basic health, safety and welfare issues like:

  • Lighting
  • Ventilation
  • Workstations
  • Traffic routes
  • Toilets and washing facilities

Other relevant regulations are:

  • The Quarries regs 1999
  • The health and safety (Miscellaneous Amendments) regs 2002
  • Working at height regs 2002 and CDM regs 2015)

Are health and safety requirements different in every industry?

There are different regulations depending on your industry, but all businesses are covered by the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Construction for example, has its own best practices, qualifications and interpretations of the law.

The HSE recognise this by offering different Industry approaches in their guidance and approved codes of practice.

You can buy HSE published books, like this guide to managing construction health and safety, or this guide to health and safety for warehouse and storage.

Health and safety laws you must know

The HSE health and safety law poster tells you the critical health and safety information

What the poster tells employers

The document or poster informs employers that they need to decide what could harm an employee when doing their job and focuses then on risk assessment.

It informs employers that they need to be able to communicate these risks to their employees in a way that they will be able to understand and let them know who is responsible within the business to manage those risks.

What the poster tells employees

Employees are told to consult with their representatives of safety with the result of protection from harm.

It states that:

  • All training should be free of charge
  • All equipment needed is also provided free of charge
  • Welfare is provided
  • First aid facilities are provided
  • All major injuries are reported
  • insurance is displayed
  • The health and safety of all other employers and contractors is protected.

Common sense plays a huge part in health and safety, so although these points aren’t listed on the poster, they’re still critical points

  • Employees should follow the training you have been given and use equipment as intended
  • Take reasonable care of yourself and everyone around you
  • Co-operate with your employer
  • If you think something wrong or dangerous, inform your employer

If you need further information, go to the HSE website and if after speaking to your employer you are still worried, let the HSE know via their website

Does the law impact the way you trade and work?

There is no reason why the law should impact the way we work. If we all comply with the law, we are all on the same level playing field.

Health and safety laws aren’t an obstacle, they’re there to help you to succeed.

It’s a roadmap to focus on – if health and safety gets in the way of what you are doing, you’re doing it wrong.

How to stay health and safety compliant

Use the ‘Plan, Do, Check and Act’ or HSG65 model to help your business focus on your objectives.

NEBOSH will state that as long as you spend enough time on the check element, you will always succeed in health and safety and I agree with this idea.

Staying compliant is actually really easy, the HSE only change the law twice a year (6th April and the 1st October) and you can subscribe to their newsletters and updates, but this is just the legal element.

To get reassurance that what you’re doing is lawful and correct, there are two ways to check.

#1 Find a health and safety consultant or auditor

If you want a reliable consultant, go to the OSHCR webpage and find your local consultant.

This register should help you find the best advice from an industry-backed body supported by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), International Institute of Risk and Safety Management (IIRSM), Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH), British Safety Council and NEBOSH amongst others so you can’t get any better support.

This person or company will audit you against what you have agreed in your policies.

They’ll report back to you with either the results and some guidance on how to bridge any gaps or at the very least, inform you that’s everything you are doing is as it should be.

They may also provide you with a way to get to the next level.

#2 ISOs

You can go for the standards route like ISO’s.

ISO state that their standards:

  • Are internationally agreed by experts
  • A formula that describes the best way of doing something
  • Cover a huge range of activities, like making products, managing a process, delivering a service or supplying materials.

The ISO health and safety standard is 45001.

#3 Safety Schemes in Procurement (SSIP)

This is an umbrella scheme that covers many other schemes like CHAS, SMAS, Achillis and BSI and mainly looks at compliance with the law.

SSIP is ideal for smaller companies where ISO is not practical and like ISO, provides an external audit every year to prove your company is compliant.

#4 Invest in training and expertise

All training is good and when it comes to health and safety.

There are many different awarding bodies that will award like IOSH, NEBOSH, Highfields and NVQ and at TSW we deal with all of the major players.

You could use IOSH for all your workforce and supervisors and then the NEBOSH course for all managers and health and safety officers. Read about the difference between the bodies and key courses in our guide.

Once you go passed the level three-stage in health and safety, you are manager level and this will be your sole role.

Qualifications then extend to degree level. For example, The British Safety Council, NEBOSH and NVQ. There are like always others, but these bodies have the history that industry know.

The consequences of not having a health and safety qualified person within the business is that you’re not compliant with the law – see section 7 of the management regulations.

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