We all probably have our own idea of what a safety manager looks like—decked out in high-viz so you can see them coming, wielding their clipboard, watching from their office for the slightest thing to go wrong and give you a telling off.
We’ve come a long way in the last few years. Thankfully the stereotypical image of the site safety supervisor is giving way to a general understanding that most safety managers aren’t lying in wait trying to catch you out, but are ordinary people who want to keep others safe and away from risks that could lead to injury or worse.
But one other myth persists: safety supervisors are the only ones with a legal safety responsibility on-site.
In this blog, we’ll take a look at the legislation around safe working and the responsibilities it places on those at work.
Health and safety legislation in the UK
Although ‘health and safety’ has unfortunately become a catch-all excuse for a range of questionable restrictions, it’s a clear set of sensible rules and guidelines to encourage safe working and hold those who willingly enable unsafe working practices to account.
The history of the Health and Safety at Work Act dates back to 1974, when it was first passed by Parliament following a radical review of the UK’s ineffective ad-hoc health and safety regulation.
Those who decry Health and Safety Legislation would have you believe it’s a nightmarish warren of strange rules designed to make work harder. In fact, the aim of the UK’s H&S legislation is quite simple: placing general duties to reduce risks ‘so far as reasonably practicable’ on those in charge.
This new legislation aimed to remove specific guidance on machine parts and equipment and make it more responsive to individual situations and advancing technology. The Health and Safety Executive was created around the same time to enforce the new rules.
Despite what you might have heard about how unnecessary it all was, this new legislation was incredibly effective. HSE figures show that since it was introduced in 1974, occupational deaths and injuries in the UK have decreased by over 75%.
Although statistics have plateaued in recent years, it’s hard to deny that this was an incredible boost for the safety of everyone at work.
The Health and Safety at Work Act is supported by a number of industry and task-specific legislation that provide more focused guidance, such as the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) and the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998.
So, who are these key duty holders? And what, in particular, are they expected to do under health and safety legislation?
Employer responsibilities for health and safety
While health and safety legislation is careful never to name just one person as responsible for health and safety, it does identify ‘employers’ as the ones with the greatest health and safety responsibility.
According to the HSE, ‘it is an employer’s duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and other people who might be affected by their business.’ Under this definition, anyone employing someone to carry out a task is therefore responsible for their safety and the safety of anyone else who might be put at risk by the work itself.
Those entrusted to discharge health and safety duties on behalf of employees, including managers and safety supervisors, also share in these responsibilities.
Two key duties of an employer under the legislation are:
Assess and control risks
Before work commences, a comprehensive risk assessment must be carried out to identify the risks posed by the work or the environment it is being carried out. This could be unprotected edges when working at height, the possibility of suffocation when working in enclosed spaces, or even minor risks such as trip hazards.
Risk assessments will highlight the risk, its location, and the level of danger it poses. From here, employers should then identify the most effective action to eliminate the risk or – if this isn’t possible – control it and mitigate the potential impact it could have. Controls include everything from PPE to training to extra protective equipment.
Inform employees about the risks
Once a risk assessment has been carried out and the risks removed or controlled, they should then make every effort to inform workers about these risks and the controls put in place.
Employees should receive clear information about when and where risks are being controlled, as well as instruction and training on how to deal with those risks.
Consult employees and provide health and safety information
Employers should also consult employees on health and safety issues directly via safety briefings or through a safety representative.
Employers also have a legal duty to display approved posters in the workplace and disseminate leaflets containing important information to keep workers informed.
Are employees responsible for health and safety?
The legal responsibility to ensure safe working falls onto employers, and all employees are legally entitled to work in environments where risks to their health and safety are properly controlled.
However, workers have a duty to take care of their health and safety, as well as those around them.
Although the burden falls on employers to ensure risk assessments are carried out, and controls are put in place, employers are expected to pay attention to the risks being communicated, make use of controls put in place, and cooperate with employers to ensure everyone is doing their bit.
Workers should also highlight any concerns they have about their own safety, or the safety of others, to their employer or a health and safety representative. It is crucial that employers encourage healthy psychological safety to ensure employees feel comfortable coming forward.
Who has responsibility for health and safety at work?
Ultimately, everyone has the responsibility to ensure health and safety at work.
Employers must be aware of their duties under the legislation, from assessment to communication, but equally, employees must cooperate with employers so these controls can be implemented.
A healthy safety culture at work benefits everyone, and it pays dividends in the long run when everyone is aware of this and does their part.
For more information about creating and nurturing the right safety culture in your workplace, get in touch with Veritas Consulting today.