The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (the Act) ensures health and safety in the workplace. Although primary responsibility lies with the employer, the Act also specifies the health and safety responsibilities of employees to ensure the health, safety and welfare of people in the workplace is sufficiently safeguarded. The respective responsibilities rely heavily on one another to ensure the smooth running of health and safety practices in the workplace.
For health and safety legislation to be effective, both employer and employee are legally obliged to comply with their duties under the Act. Failure by employees to adhere to their obligations risks company disciplinary action, civil litigation and criminal prosecution. The Health and Safety Executive may also take action against the employer. It is imperative therefore that both employers and employees understand their rights and responsibilities for health and safety in the workplace.
What are employee health and safety responsibilities?
For the purpose of the Health and Safety Act, an employee includes full-time, part-time, permanent and temporary employees.
The health and safety responsibilities of employees are designed to ensure that they co-operate with you as their employer to create a healthy and safe working environment. Their duties work to safeguard people in the workplace and protect the procedures you have put in place.
Employees are expected to:
Take reasonable care to safeguard the health, safety and welfare of those who may be affected by their actions.
This aims to reduce negligence or carelessness of employees while in the course of their work to avoid incidents and encourages employees to take careful consideration of anyone whose health, safety and welfare may be impacted by their acts or omissions.
Co-operate with health and safety and not misuse or interfere with anything provided for health and safety.
Employees must follow all health and safety principles and procedures, and not use any health and safety equipment other than for the purpose it is intended. This can be something small such as moving a wet floor sign, to blocking a fire exit or leaving a machine running.
Follow their health and safety training
Just as employers are required to provide adequate training, employees are bound to follow it. Not adhering to the health and safety protocols can result in significant risk to the health and safety of those in the workplace including themselves, so it is imperative that employees adhere to their training.
Inform the competent person of any immediate and significant risks they encounter
Employees must report any risks they come across in the course of their work that may present an immediate and significant hazard to health and safety. This duty ensures that everyone in the workplace has a proactive responsibility to protect health and safety.
Tell someone if they feel that something else in the workplace is putting health and safety at risk.
This duty puts an active responsibility on employees to identify and observe the health and safety of employees and others in the workplace by identifying any risks not already addressed in your risk assessment. Employees are accountable by making sure the relevant person is informed of anything that comes to their attention.
Talk with employers about health and safety before involving the Health & Safety Executive (HSE).
Consultation between you and your employees about health and safety matters helps to build trust and gives you the opportunity to rectify any issues and avoiding the need for formal action by the HSE.
What H&S responsibilities do employers have?
As an employer, you have principal responsibility for health and safety within the workplace, and as a minimum, you must make sure to:
- Tell your employees how to carry out their work safely in a way that they can understand.
- Tell employees about any risks to health and safety, how those risks will be controlled, and the person responsible for ensuring this.
- Work together and consult with health and safety representatives and employees on workplace health and safety.
- Ensure sufficient first aid facilities and information on what to do in an emergency situation.
You must also provide:
- Training and, where necessary, personal protective equipment
- Health checks due to the risk of ill health due to work
- Regular health checks for night shift working.
The employer must provide everything necessary to work safely in order to protect employees’ health and welfare. You must also make sure that employees fully understand the risks to health and safety in their workplace, and to be sufficiently prepared to deal with those risks by way of training and equipment.
Although the primary duty of ensuring health and safety within the workplace lies with the employer, the employee also has a number of responsibilities to ensure they are working safely so as not to put themselves or others in the workplace at risk of harm.
Note that as well as employees, you also have health and safety duties towards self-employed workers and temporary or agency workers and must work in conjunction with any other organisation that may also have a responsibility for them, such as an employment agency.
How to help employees meet their health and safety responsibilities
To help with the health and safety responsibilities of employees, you must communicate certain information to them. This includes:
- Explaining the risks and hazards that may be present in the course of carrying out their work.
- What actions you have taken or things you will do to reduce or remove those risks or hazards.
- The protocol they should follow should they encounter such a risk or a hazardous situation.
- The identity of the person who is responsible for health and safety in the workplace so that they know whom they can speak to about any concerns or to report any accidents or illnesses.
A health and safety policy is a legal requirement if your organisation has more than five employees, and is a useful method of communicating this advice, alongside information regarding disciplinary procedures you may take, and consequences to the employee if the health and safety policy is not followed.
Even if you have fewer than five employees, it may still be wise to have a documented health and safety policy as a way to communicate the necessary information and as evidence of your compliance as an employer should the need arise.
What should I do if an employee does not adhere to health and safety?
There are a variety of steps you can take if an employee does not adhere to health and safety, including following the disciplinary procedures that you set out in your health and safety policy. Action can include issuing verbal and written warnings, providing additional training and if necessary, dismissal of the employee. For more information on what you are able to do in this situation, you should seek professional legal advice.
Who is responsible if an employee does not adhere to their health and safety responsibilities?
This is a complicated area that depends entirely on specific circumstances and the steps you have taken in your duties as an employer. If it appears the employer hasn’t taken all reasonably practicable steps to ensure the health, safety and welfare of its employees, then action may be taken against them. However, if you have taken all reasonably practicable steps, then the Health and Safety Executive may decide to take action against the employee under Section 7 of the Act.
Many factors are taken into consideration including the circumstances, the act or omission of the employee and the potential risk caused by it. The act or omission by the employee may be compared against the steps you took as an employer to comply with your own duties, so it is imperative for you to ensure you are compliant so that you are not liable to prosecution.
The steps you need to take to ensure your own compliance with health and safety legislation can vary considerably depending on the industry you work in. Consequently, this has a direct impact on the ability of your employees to work with you to uphold health and safety and will impact whether or not they can be accountable for their actions.
How legal advice helps
Given the potential financial and reputational damage a prosecution from the HSE for breach of health and safety may have for an employer, it is critical to ensure you seek legal advice in regards to your health and safety duties to ensure the health, safety and welfare of your employees are sufficiently safeguarded. You should also seek legal advice so that you are protected against any claims for breach, and in situations where the health and safety responsibilities of your employees have been breached.