- 8 minute read
- Last updated: 16th August 2019
Ensuring your employees understand their duties in respect of health and safety and that they are supported in meeting these duties is critical to creating and maintaining a safe and compliant working environment.
This article covers:
- Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 Employees Responsibilities
- Additional regulations and company policies
- Consequences of breaching health and safety responsibilities
- Employer duties under Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
- Why take legal advice
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 places legal responsibilities on employees to exercise reasonable care concerning the health and safety of themselves and others in the workplace.
This includes a duty to enable their employer to fulfil its duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act and to avoid obstructing or otherwise interfering with anything related to ensuring health and safety in the workplace.
Employees are also have a duty of care under common law to their employer and colleagues.
Health and safety duties extend to employees including temporary workers, contractors, agency workers, mobile workers, apprentices, work experience, and volunteers.
The overarching legal duty of employees is to take reasonable care of the health and safety of others in the workplace. Depending on the working environment, this could include colleagues, customers, visitors and of course themself.
Central to this duty is full co-operation with their employer and their efforts to sustain or improve a safe and healthy working environment.
This includes attending all relevant health and safety training offered by their employer such as fire drills, security meetings and first aid training.
Employees are also required to follow any instructions given by an employer or assigned safety personnel regarding specific health and safety matters. Examples may include adhering to a specific dress code, for example not wearing loose fitting clothing or jewellery and tying back or securing long hair if operating machinery or working around food.
Employees must never obstruct, misuse or interfere with anything which affects health and safety in the workplace. For example, employees must not obstruct fire doors or tamper with fire extinguishers or share security information with people outside of the business.
Employees also have a responsibility to report any hazards and defects they observe or encounter in the workplace. It is the employer’s responsibility to communicate to all employees the process for reporting incidents, risks, hazards and defects, such as making an entry into a log book or informing a nominated individual immediately.
The responsibility of reporting also extends to personal injuries, diseases, or pregnancies, as these conditions may give rise to additional health and safety risks requiring management and action on the part of the employer.
Additional legislation, such as the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 (as amended 2002) further define an employee’s duties and responsibilities, particularly in relation to co-operation with their employer.
The regulations focus on an employee’s duty to follow instructions and training given by an employer, communicate with the employer any dangers or health and safety shortcomings in the workplace, and make full and proper use of the systems and facilities provided by an employer to ensure employee safety.
Individual companies are also required to have their own health and safety policies, specific to the company, location, and industry in which they operate. Employees have a responsibility to familiarise themselves with their company’s health and safety policies, systems, and personnel, as well as raising any concerns they may have regarding its effectiveness. As such, the employer must make this information easily available to all employees.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has the power to investigate health and safety incidents and complaints from employers and employees. If an employee commits a breach under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, they may face serious penalties, including a fine or criminal conviction.
To prosecute an individual the HSE must be able to prove that the employee is individually liable for breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 through neglect, consent or connivance. The HSE regulators will also consider whether an employee is solely responsible or whether their management, employer, or other key employees are jointly responsible.
Breaching health and safety rules may constitute grounds for termination of contract where there was a contractual obligation to act with care and skill. For example, employees who breach company health and safety policy, either through negligence or dangerous action, significant enough to have resulted in an injury or incident or that has seriously threatened the health and safety of the workplace, could potentially face dismissal from the workplace.
The Health and Safety at Work act 1974 enshrines in law the employer’s responsibility to maintain the health, safety and welfare of their employees. This means that an employee’s workplace must meet health and safety standards, employees must be fully informed of workplace risks and health and safety procedures, for example through regular fire drills, and sufficient support must be provided for if an employee whose welfare is compromised.
In instances where breaches of health and safety law have occurred, employers can be held jointly or solely responsible for an employee’s breach if it is determined that they did not provide sufficient training, systems, or equipment for the employee to meet their legal requirements.
Health and safety in the workplace is a critical part of employment. It is essential that employers support and facilitate their employees in meeting their responsibilities under Health & Safety at Work Act 1974.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.