Employer’s responsibilities for workplace health and safety

Workplace health and safety is covered by the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HASAWA), supplemented by associated pieces of secondary legislation. These set out four main areas of responsibility for employers.

The responsibility to ensure that staff are appropriately trained in health and safety procedures

All staff must have the necessary degree of training to carry out their job in a safe manner. What this means in practice will, of course, depend on the job. For example, someone with a desk-based role may require training on how to set up their desk so as to minimise the possibility of eye strain and repetitive strain injury, whereas someone in a job which involves heavy lifting might require training on effective manual-lifting techniques and/or how to use a hoist. The key point to note here is that employers have to ensure that staff have the appropriate training, not that they necessarily have to provide it themselves or arrange for it to be provided on their behalf. They may choose to hire people who already have industry-standard certifications.

The responsibility to make adequate welfare provisions for staff at work

This requirement can extend far beyond the provision of first aid kits. It means that you have to ensure that staff have access to the necessary facilities to take care of reasonable personal needs such as the need to keep hydrated and the need to take breaks. Again, what this will mean in practice will depend on circumstances, as a minimum. However, you should aim to provide a place for staff to eat and rest, a place for them to get water (if only cold) and toilets with appropriate facilities to dispose of feminine hygiene products.

The responsibility to provide a safe working environment

Similarly to the previous requirement, this has a very broad application, which will depend on circumstances and in this context it’s worth noting that there is increasing recognition that the concept of health and safety at work extends to an employee’s mental well-being as well as their physical wellbeing. Therefore employers are recommended to consider whether any aspects of the company’s work environment(s) could negatively impact an employee’s mental well-being as well as their physical safety. For example, some desk-based employees may find themselves struggling to focus in a noisy office and hence could benefit from soundproofing.

The responsibility to supply employees with relevant information, instruction and supervision

For many years, employers have fulfilled all or at least part of their responsibilities under this point of the HASAWA by purchasing ready-made literature, usually in the form of posters and leaflets, and displaying it on dedicated notice boards. This is still a perfectly valid approach. In modern business premises, however, where space is often at a premium, employers may wish to consider moving to the digital provision of health and safety information and instruction. Making this change could be as simple as converting the physical notice board into an online one (and of course ensuring that staff know where to find it) or it could involve creating or purchasing online training courses.

Peter Watson