Handling health and safety in the workplace


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Under the UK’s health and safety laws, it is an employer’s responsibility to ensure that their employees’ work environment is functional, safe and secure.

Whether it’s ensuring that employees are all clued up on fire safety and first aid, or making sure that they’re up-to-date with the skills required to correctly operate machinery, there’s a lot to take care of.

Not only is it essential that employers adhere to the correct rules and regulations for their employees’ safety, but also, ignoring correct procedure can lead to an employer receiving hefty fines, and even prison time.

And, while the UK has a pretty good reputation when it comes to health and safety, the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) most recent report shows that some companies have fallen short.

The HSE reported that between 2019 and 2020, 111 workers were killed at work. Meanwhile, the Labour Force revealed that a further 581,000 people sustained an injury at work. It’s estimated that the cost of injuries caused by working conditions is around £15 billion.

Ultimately, it’s never worth it to cut corners when it comes to the safety and protection of workers. That being said, there’s a lot to take into consideration to ensure that standards are up to snuff.

Read on to discover the regulations employers must abide by, the consequences an employer may face if they ignore them, and the best practices that companies should follow to stay on top of things.

Regulations to abide by

In the UK there are a plethora of different statutes that govern health and safety at work. Some of these include:

Under this range legislation, employers have a number of responsibilities that they are liable for. In relation to potential hazards, employers are required to produce risk assessments, and establish a sufficient health and safety policy, with emergency procedures. This policy should then be clearly displayed. Employers should also provide employees with adequate health and safety induction and training.

Workers’ environments should also be safe, with easy and unobstructed access and egress. Employees should have access to sufficient ventilation, whether this involves air conditioning or access to windows, and the working environment should have electricity, and appropriate lighting for the work carried out. Working areas should also be clean and hygienic, with PPE provided if required.

This idea of a safe environment extends to the work materials used by employees. These materials should also be handled, transported and stored in an adequately safe manner.

Additionally, when it comes to welfare facilities, an employer should provide enough facilities for the number of workers employed by the company. This applies to toilet facilities, washing basins, hand dryers, and soap. On site, there should also be facilities for employees to access drinking water, and a place for them to take time away from work, and eat.

The consequences of cutting corners

If a company fails to adhere to health and safety regulations, it will be faced serious consequences.

Prior to March 2015, companies that failed to comply with health and safety regulations could incur fines of up to £20,000. However, after this date, in the magistrates’ court, the cap was removed. As a result, non-compliance can be costly. This is especially true for cases of injury caused by an employer neglecting their duty of care. Compensation payouts can potentially cost companies hundreds of thousands of pounds!

On top of this, prosecutions brought forward by the HSE are nearly always successful, with a conviction rate of around 94%. So, it’s very unlikely that a company will come out of a case smelling of roses.

And, it doesn’t stop there. Employers who breach health and safety regulations can even face prison time. Now, in the magistrates’ court, offences can also lead to a six-month prison sentence. This increases to up to two years in the Crown Court.

Moreover, employers who shirk their duties to the point of gross negligence, which causes death, will face hefty sentences. The Sentencing Council published its definitive guidance on this on 31 July 2018. It created sentences based on four levels of culpability, ranging from “lower,” “medium,” “high”  and “very high”. Corresponding, starting points for jail time range from two years, four years, eight years and twelve years. That being said, if an offence lies within the “very high” category, this could result in a sentence of up to eighteen years.

While of course most breaches of health and safety regulations do not result in death, they can still have a devastating impact on a company’s reputation. Whether neglecting duty of care leads to industry disqualification or loss of clients, it’s incredibly difficult for a company to bounce back once it’s been discovered that they have not complied with the law. And, let’s face it, when a company puts its employees at risk, it’s unlikely that it will be able to retain its workforce, or recruit new workers.

Promoting best practices

In order to maintain a positive and proactive attitude towards health and safety in the workplace, it’s important to promote health and safety best practices.

To begin with, hiring a fully competent individual who is capable of monitoring health and safety autonomously, is essential. The individual presiding over this, should be well versed in the company’s health and safety policy, and have a wealth of relevant skills, to ensure that everything runs smoothly.

On top of this, in order to make this individual’s job as easy and efficient as possible, it is vital to collate data into an online management system, that is both mobile and centralised. This will help companies avoid losing track of important information if a company lands in hot water.

Additionally, for a company’s health and safety regulations to be successful, it is paramount that its employees are focused and engaged too. If an employee does not care about the welfare of themselves or others in the workplace, or does not have the tools to understand what is required of them, things won’t go too swimmingly. It was also found by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), that engaged workers are five times less likely to have a work-related accident, than those who are not engaged.

Employee engagement can be induced in a number of ways. A company could introduce a

reward scheme based around good health and safety practices, or organise regular meetings relating to health and safety practice. Alternatively, to get employees more involved, a company could distribute surveys testing their employees’ knowledge of and approach to health and safety in the workplace.

Final thoughts

So, in order to promote and maintain a safe work environment, companies should be proactive when creating and implementing their health and safety policy.

Compliance with the law is an integral part of any organisation’s success, and failing to fulfil this basic criteria required by UK law, just feels like setting up for failure.

Finally, start out on the right foot, and don’t underestimate the importance of a good health and safety policy!

Article Created By Madaline Dunn

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