Health and safety

There’s a whole bunch of jokes about health and safety and anyone who’s been on a company induction or read the employee handbook will know why.

Although regulations have got more long-winded recently, it’s all done to benefit and protect you. So it’s always worth getting acquainted with a few of the facts as well as your rights and obligations to make sure everyone is kept safe and ticking over.


What’s the point?

First, a few sobering facts to remind us why the Health and Safety Act exists in the first place. More than 5,000 serious injuries are sustained in offices every year, according to the union for office workers, Unite.

In construction, the dangers are much greater and the risk of fatalities is increased. Fumes, eye-strain from goggling screens, dodgy equipment and tripping over wires are typical hazards that may leave workers disabled.

All the more reason, then, for health and safety legislation, despite the quip about 100 safety
managers in your basement turning it into a “whine cellar”.


What your company must do for you

The Health and Safety at Work Act is the primary piece of legislation covering work-related health and safety in the UK. It sets out employers’ responsibilities for health and safety at work.. You can find all the details on Directgov but here’s the gist of it.

  • Your employer has a 'duty of care' to look after your health, safety and welfare while you’re at work. They should start with a risk assessment to spot possible health and safety hazards.
  • Companies then have to appoint a 'competent person' with health and safety responsibilities. The Health and Safety Executive is responsible for actually enforcing the health and safety rules at work.
  • For businesses employing five or more people, there must also be an official record of what the assessment finds and a formal health and safety policy, including arrangements to protect your health and safety.

Want more information? Here’s some more handy links:

Frequently asked questions about health and safety

Safe manual work

The company's duties

Now it’s time for the high-level, legal eagle bit. The TUC summarises these main points.Your employer must tell you:

  • About risks to your health and safety from current or proposed working practices
  • About things or changes that may harm or affect your health and safety
  • How to do your job safely
  • What is done to protect your health and safety
  • How to get first-aid treatment
  • What to do in an emergency

Your employer must also provide, free of charge:

  • Training to do your job safely
  • Protection for you at work when necessary (including advice on computer screen and chair height, clothing, shoes or boots, eye and ear protection, gloves, masks)
  • Health checks if there is a danger of ill health because of your work, including eye checks for VDU users
  • Regular health checks if you work nights and a check before you start


What you must do for your company

Health and safety is not all one-way traffic though, and you have legal obligations to:

  • Take care of your own health and safety and that of people who may be affected by what you do (or do not do)
  • Co-operate with others on health and safety, and not interfere with, or misuse, anything provided for your health, safety or welfare


Read the handbook!

Confused? Luckily many companies set out your obligations and a mandatory code of conduct in a handbook. It may be dry in tone but it should be a must-read as it sets out expectations about conduct and discipline policies: this way you won’t be caught out if what you thought was high jinks at the staff party turns out to be gross misconduct.

The handbook should cover policies including:

As well as rules and procedures concerning:

  • Email
  • Use of the telephone
  • Company equipment
  • Internet and e-mail
  • Employee use of motor vehicles for job assignments
  • On-the-job accidents

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