Health and Safety
Perhaps one of the most important rights that an employee is entitled to is the right to work in a safe and healthy environment. Your employer has a legal responsibility to ensure that any risks to your health while at work are minimised through proper health and safety procedures.
In the United Kingdom the main piece of legislation regarding health and safety is the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act, which sets out all of the obligations your employer has to adhere to in order to ensure your safety when in the workplace.
It goes without saying that employers have a 'duty of care' towards you whilst you are under their supervision and therefore must undertake proper risk assessments for every aspect of your job.
What are the main health and safety obligations of your employer?
Whilst additional regulations apply to large companies (companies employing 5 or more people), all employers need to follow the same minimum practises. These include:
- Ensuring that the right warning signs are provided at work
- Providing adequate first aid facilities
- Informing you of any potential hazards arising from the work you do, giving you information, instructions, training and supervision as necessary
- Ensuring that plant and machinery is safe to use, and that safe working practices are set up and followed
- Ensuring that ventilation, temperature, lighting, toilet, washing and rest facilities all meet health, safety and welfare requirements (i.e. a minimum of 13 degrees C for manual labour employees or 16 degrees C for offices.
- Checking that the right work equipment is provided, used properly and regularly maintained
- Taking precautions against the risks caused by flammable or explosive hazards, electrical equipment, noise and radiation
- Avoiding potentially dangerous work involving manual handling and if it can't be avoided, take precautions to reduce the risk of injury
- Provide protective clothing or equipment free of charge if necessary
Depending on the type of business you are employed in, your employer also needs to report certain accidents, injuries and dangerous occurrences to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or local authority.
What are the main obligations of employees regarding health and safety?
Whilst your employer has a duty of care towards you as an employee, your own responsibilities are to ensure that you take reasonable care of your own health and safety, as well as abiding by the company policies that have been put in place.
The most important obligations of an employee when it comes to your health and safety include:
- Taking reasonable care not to put your fellow employees at risk throughout the course of your work
- Reporting any injuries, strains or illnesses you suffer as a result of doing your job (i.e. eye strain or headaches related to regular use of computer screens).
- Not interfering with anything that has been provided for your own safety or welfare
- If you work in a factory environment or operate machinery, ensuring that long hair is tied up or tucked away, along with avoiding wearing loose clothing or jewellery that could get caught in machinery.
Taking reasonable care of your own health and safety also includes ensuring that you take the correct number of rest breaks as well as speaking up when you feel that your rights are being breached.
What to do if you feel uncomfortable with your work environment
If you are worried about any aspect of your health and safety at work, you have the right to stop work and leave without being disciplined by your employer. However, this action should only be made as a last resort and you should first discuss your concerns with your boss, line manager or health and safety representative.
If you do not feel that your concerns are being taken seriously or that you have not been given a satisfactory answer from your employer, you can then contact the HSE. The HSE is the Government body responsible for enforcing health and safety regulations in the workplace, and as such, is able to provide advice and information as well as enforcing any rulings made against your employer.
Does your company have a health and safety representative?
Within your place of work there should be a 'competent person' with health and safety training who is assigned by the company to act as your health and safety representative. In smaller companies this person is usually one of the owners, but in larger companies it is more likely that this will be a member of staff.
A health and safety representative is your first point of contact when it comes to any concerns you may have. It is part of their duty to represent you as well as investigate any incidents or complaints about the company.
First Aid at work
If you injure yourself or become ill whilst at work, (whether this is directly related to your job or not) it is important that your employer has the correct arrangements in place to help deal with the situation. All employers are required to provide "adequate and appropriate first aid equipment, facilities and people" in order for immediate help to be given to staff who are taken ill (Source: Health and Safety Executive).
All workplaces must provide a first aid kit regardless of the size of the company and the HSE has provided a list of recommended items to include within it. These are:
- An information leaflet on basic first aid
- Individually wrapped sterile plasters
- Sterile eye pads
- Safety pins
- Wound dressings
- Disposable gloves
It is not recommended for employers to include tablets or other medicines in this kit, therefore you should not expect to obtain these at work.
Further information about health and safety
For further information regarding health and safety in the workplace and your rights as an employee, you can contact the Health and Safety Executive's info line on 0845 345 0055 or visit the website at http://www.hse.gov.uk/