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Know Your Rights: Workers’ Duty of Care in the Workplace
Posted by David Cant on May 24, 2012

Guest post contributed by Charles Worthering, on behalf of Charles is a solicitor and works with clients on cases pertaining to accident at work compensation. In his spare time he enjoys writing about workers’ rights and health and safety issues.

The words, “Nobody told me not to,” may work for children, but adults are expected to show a certain level of responsibility in today’s world. You owe a degree of consideration to other members of society, regardless of whether there is a specific statue prohibiting or demanding a certain action.

As adults, we are expected to take reasonable care in our actions to avoid creating or failing to eliminate situations that could injure another person. In general terms, for example, a swimming pool not protected by a fence, a ladder left propped up against a house or a hidden hole in a yard could all potentially violate a general duty of care, since neighbors or passersby could easily come to harm due to these situations.

Working Safely

Those who have a specific contractual relationship, such as an employer and employee, have an even higher degree of duty of care than exists between strangers. This means, for example, that an employer is expected to furnish a safe working environment. Additionally, employees are owed the proper equipment and training necessary to do their job safely. Besides the obligations to take preventive measures, employers are expected to have emergency plans in place and available adequate first aid facilities to reduce the severity of any injuries that may arise.

Less commonly known or discussed, however, is an employee’s duty of care responsibility. This means that an employee is expected to work in a safe manner to prevent accident or injury to themselves, other employees and anyone who happens to be in the vicinity. Reporting unsafe behavior by other employees as well as unsafe working conditions are implied expectations as well.

The degree of care an employee or employer needs to take depends on three things.
The first is the degree of injury that could potentially result from inaction. The more serious a possible injury or illness, the greater the obligation on both employer and employee. The second is the likelihood of an injury occurring in the first place. The greater the chance of an injury, the greater the burden on all parties to take measures to prevent it. The third and final factor is the degree of involvement required to prevent the injury. The easier an action to avoid a possible injury is, the more the pressure on employers and employees to take that action.

Finally, the obligation to provide duty of care extends to dealings with safety inspectors. Knowingly misinforming or misleading either internal or external health and safety personnel is a violation of one’s duty of care. In most cases, honesty, caution and common sense are all that are necessary to ensure that your actions fall within your required duty of care.


Director at Veritas Consulting. The SME's favourite go-to consultant for health and safety know-how. Bucket loads of experience. Fluent in practical advice. Solutionist with a brain you can pick.

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