The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 has set the legal basis and framework for health and safety in the UK workplace. Under the act, employers have a number of responsibilities towards employees and others in their company workplaces including temps, casual workers, the self-employed, clients, visitors and the general public.
Failing to meet your employer duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 can have serious consequences from fines to forced business closure or even prosecution and custodial sentences. It is therefore strongly recommended that you seek legal advice to ensure you understand the full complexity of your responsibilities, fulfil your duties, and avoid harm to both your employees and your business.
Employer duties and responsibilities:
Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASAWA) an employer has the legal duty to, within reasonable, practical ability, protect the general welfare, health and safety of both their employees and anyone who may be affected by the business.
Some examples of duties an employer has under the Act include:
- Provide a safe place of work
- Provide safe equipment, plant and machinery;
- Carrying out risk assessments
- Give employees detailed and free information regarding all the workplace risks and how they are protected, including provided safety signs where appropriate and where a significant risk exists which cannot be avoided or controlled in any other way
- Train and instruct employees as to deal with workplace risks
- Provide adequate facilities for staff welfare in the workplace
- Establish a safe system of work including a clear health and safety policy which explained in detail to all employees, including providing emergency signs and company-wide, practiced, recorded and understood emergency plans e.g. in case of fire
- Display the approved health and safety law poster in a prominent position at every workplace used by the company or provide each employee with a version of the health and safety law approved leaflet
- Consult employees regarding health and safety issues either directly or via a workplace or trade union elected safety representative
- Ensure that all staff employed are safe and competent, employers have responsibility for the actions of their managers and staff
- Record, report and investigate all workplace accidents or close calls
- Provide an appropriately stocked first-aid kit and an appointed individual with the skills and experience to manage any first-aid incidents, as well as ensuring all employees are aware of who to notify and where they can be found if an incident arises.
- Depending on the size of the company more than one first-aider and first-aid kit may be necessary.
For most companies, some form of liability insurance is also a legal requirement and for some businesses and industries, such as medical services or construction, additional types of insurance may be necessary.
Reporting Health and Safety incidents:
Although having an established health and safety policy, consulting with employees, and conducting frequent risk assessments to ensure the working environment (physical and social) for employees meets health and safety criteria, are all critical aspects of meeting UK law under the Health and Safety at Work 1974 Act, it is still essential that employers understand their reporting responsibilities should an incident arise.
Should an incident occur which needs reporting either the employer’s appointed safety personnel (whether employed or third party), and anyone in control or work premises, has a legal duty to report incidents which fall under the following:
- Any employee or visitor near miss accidents (also known as dangerous occurrences) which are work related
- Any employee or visitor diseases which are work related
- Any employee or visitor injuries which can be considered major, for example requiring over 48 hours medical treatment or requiring over 3 days of time off work
- Any employee or visitor deaths which are work related
Should an incident occur which, according to the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR) requires reporting, the designated reporter will need to utilise specific HSE forms.
Should a business be operating in specific industries the assigned reporter may need to utilise more specific forms. An example would be in industries which operate at least in part at sea, such as the fishing or commercial ferries industries.
Failure to correctly and promptly report an incident via the correct official forms can be considered a breach of employer responsibilities under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and could result in investigation, fines or even prosecution.
Enforcement and consequences of non-compliance with the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974:
Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors and local authority officers have the legal authority to enter any and all company premises to ensure that appropriate health and safety precautions are in place and in action.
Situations which would warrant a visit from a HSE inspector include:
- An employee making a complaint regarding a health and safety issue or concern in or related to the workplace
- A health and safety related incident having occurred in or related to a company workplace
The inspectors or officers are entitled to talk with all company employees and nominated safety representatives as part of an investigation into the company’s health and safety compliance.
HSE inspectors also have specific legal powers they may exercise in specific circumstances. These include the right to a thorough investigation where a complaint or incident has occurred, requiring the employer to take appropriate action to control a health and safety risk or risks, taking enforcement action such as halting dangerous work activities, fines, or even prosecution of responsible parties (including but not limited to the employer).
HSE Inspectors are also able to provide expert advice and guidance to assist employers in meeting their legal responsibilities and avoiding potential ill health or injury.
Even if legal repercussions are avoided, the Fee for Intervention policy (a cost recovery scheme) operated by HSE means employers will be charged a fee for the HSE inspectors time and work in remedying any health and safety issues.
Why and When to seek legal advice:
Health and safety law is complex and has a wide range of employer requirements, while many workplaces are constantly evolving and introducing new potential risks. This makes it difficult to ensure you are meeting all your employer duties and keeping up to date with health and safety regulations.
Given the high price to pay, not only fiscally but in terms of potentially being responsible for an individual’s injury or even death through negligence, ensuring you establish and maintain a safe and appropriate working environment for your employees is of critical importance.
It is therefore strongly recommended that employers seek legal advice both when drafting health and safety policies and establishing systems in the workplace to ensure they meet the requirements of the Act. Should an incident or dispute over health and safety arise, legal advice is critical to minimise the risk to employees and legal action against the company.