Individuals entering the workplace need to be aware of the health and safety laws that are applicable both to themselves and their employer, so here is a quick breakdown of some of the most pertinent rules, including perhaps the most important The Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974.
Understanding the legislation
Covering a range of common workplace hazards, The Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 provides a framework for companies to ensure the ongoing safety of their employees.
It is a legal requirement for all businesses across the UK to adhere to the regulations set out in the legislation and the law stipulates that employers must consult with union safety representatives on matters affecting health and safety in the workplace, with companies with five or more members of staff required to have in place a written health and safety policy.
Furthermore, the act covers the use of machinery, stating that firms make sure any equipment and premises do not pose a risk of injury to the individuals using them.
Businesses have a duty of care to ensure they protect employees from unnecessary exposure to harmful, noxious or offensive emissions, as well as placing a duty on designers, manufacturers and suppliers to ensure all substances used by staff are safe.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 build on this broad base of safety legislation by highlighting the importance of company risk assessments, ensuring these documents are maintained in an up-to-date format and regularly reviewed.
In addition, members of staff with sufficient knowledge, skills and experience to uphold these standards must be employed, while all potential risks should be explained to workers upon taking on any new role.
What does this mean in terms of employer/employee responsibilities?
The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) is clear that all companies operating in the UK are required by law to carry out a risk assessment on any activities that are to be undertaken by their staff.
This document must set out any potential hazards of a task, ensuring all risks are explained in a straightforward and easy to understand manner, with allocation for how these risks will be controlled and who will ultimately be responsible for this.
Businesses also have a responsibility to provide effective first-aid services, toilets for workers, washing facilities and clean drinking water.
In turn, employees themselves have a duty to uphold under healthy and safety guidelines to follow any training offered to them in the safe use of machinery or work items, while staff must also “take reasonable care of your own and other people’s health and safety”.
If workers feel there is an issue with health and safety practice in their workplace they should first make their apprehensions known to their employer, manager or their firm’s safety representative.
However, should their grievances go unheard, workers can contact their local enforcement authority directly, as well as the Employment Medical Advisory Service via the HSE.
How can I claim compensation if I’m injured in the workplace?
When faced with an accident in the workplace, the first thing individuals should do is make a note of the circumstances in which it took place and then to inform their employer.
This gives the company a chance to investigate the incident and to make changes to their risk management policy should they need to. In terms of compensation for the unfortunate worker, it also begins a dialogue that can be an important part of any potential compensation case.
“The question of whether the employer’s action (or lack of action) is in breach of the health and safety law – and whether that breach may lead to a successful claim for compensation – is not always so clear cut,” commented chartered legal executive for Hayward Baker, Gary Lee.
“If anyone would like to discuss whether or not they may have a claim for compensation from an injury at work [they can do so] with no obligation and at no cost.”
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