Health and Safety

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1. Health and safety law

Key legislation applies to Health and Safety, from both the employer and the employees’ perspective. Individuals, regardless of their position in the company, have responsibilities to themselves and others.

  • In the UK (the act extends to England and Wales and, to a limited extent, to Scotland and Northern Ireland), all occupational activities are subject to the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HASAW).
  • The act states that if an employer has five or more employees there must be a documented Health and Safety Policy.
  • The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSW) implement most of the European Framework Directive relating to the health and safety of employed persons. They effectively extend the employer’s general duties under HASAW by requiring additional actions and controls.
  • The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is the enforcement body in relation to health and safety and the powers of inspectors are contained in HASAW.

2. Managing health and safety

Health and Safety must be managed rigorously and efficiently. Risk assessment is an essential element; this is often considered complicated and bureaucratic, but it should be second nature.

  • In all companies employing five or more staff, there must be a written Health and Safety Policy, outlining the way relevant health and safety legislation will be complied with, and detailing individual responsibilities and procedures to be adopted.
  • The policy usually consists of a policy statement, a section providing concise details of health and safety objectives, performance standards and responsibilities, and a third section detailing arrangements, including systems for assessment, reporting, management, review and other procedures.
  • Risk assessments are instinctively undertaken before carrying out most day-to-day activities; however, there is a legal requirement for assessments relating to work activities to be documented and made known to all relevant parties.
  • All risks, regardless of the level, must be managed and where possible reduced.
  • Where a risk assessment has identified that elements of risk still exist after controls have been applied, a documented safe system of work will be required

3. Display screen equipment

In the majority of cases, DSE is simply the use of computers. There are some risks associated with their frequent use that must be assessed and managed.

  • It is particularly important that employers and managers consider the possibility of musculoskeletal disorders as a result of DSE use.
  • Screens should be capable of being adjusted for angle, height, brightness and contrast and be free from glare or reflections.
  • Provision of a suitable, comfortable chair is arguably the most important factor for the DSE user.
  • The use of portable equipment adds other risks, such as manual handling, theft and/or assault, which must also be considered by the employer.

4. Workplace health and safety

Workplaces must be safe to use and managers have a duty to maintain reasonable standards, either through direct management of their own staff or via contractors.

  • Health and safety within the working environment is primarily governed by the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992.
  • For sedentary workers, such as those in offices, the regulations state a minimum ambient temperature of 16° C; no maximum temperature is specified.
  • Wherever possible, lighting should take the form of natural daylight and should be sufficient to enable staff to work and move around in safety without experiencing any eye-strain.
  • The regulations specify a minimum space requirement of 11 cubic metres per person, which should take into account furniture and other equipment needs.
  • One of the greatest causes of accidents in offices, particularly slips, trips or falls, is that of bad housekeeping. Managers must ensure housekeeping is maintained at adequate standards for any areas they control.

5. Electricity

The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 require employers to maintain systems to, so far as is reasonably practicable, prevent danger.

  • Controls must be in place to stop un-authorised use and equipment must be maintained and tested.
  • Items of electrical equipment that rarely move out of an office environment do not generally require testing as frequently as items that are used away from the office or in inclement conditions.
  • Equipment should not be used if the test is out of date.
  • All live working is subject to a permit to work.

6. First aid and accident reporting

Accidents occur in all workplaces, employers must ensure that adequate arrangements exist to provide assistance if required, record the incident and instigate an investigation to prevent a recurrence.

  • A ‘first aider’ is a named person (often a volunteer) who has received recognised training and holds a current First Aid at Work Certificate.
  • An ‘appointed person’ is a named person who is nominated to take charge of the first aid requirements (such as call an ambulance, for example) when a first aider is not present or already occupied.
  • The standard of first aid and care provided for visitors should be the same as that provided for employees.
  • The first aid box should not contain any medication unless this specifically required, due to the nature of the risk, and the first aider has received training in its use.
  • The Reporting of Injuries Dangerous Diseases and Occurrences Regulations 1985 (RIDDOR) place a statutory duty to report certain injuries, diseases and dangerous occurrences to the enforcing authority.

7. Fire safety and emergency arrangements

Fire is an ever present risk; procedures must be in place to identify and control hazards, and provide a means of raising the alarm and safe evacuation of any workplace.

  • Fire safety legislation changed under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (RRO) 2005, with effect from 1 October 2006.
  • A keystone of the RRO is the requirement for a Fire Risk Assessment (FRA).
  • Employers must ensure that an assessment is undertaken and suitable proactive precautions are in place.
  • The FRA will determine the frequency of tests; current best practice is for a full, unannounced fire drill and evacuation on a six-monthly basis.
  • Even if a fire appears to have been successfully extinguished by a member of staff, it is essential that the Fire Brigade are called to check that the fire has not spread without people knowing it, and that materials or the building fabric cannot re-ignite.

8. Manual handling

Injuries from manual handling are one of the most common reasons for lost time at work. The item being handled does not have to be heavy to cause injury, so employers must assess all operations and implement suitable controls. Where possible

  • Avoid manual handling – this could be through redesigning the task to avoid moving the load or by making use of mechanical or automatic equipment.
  • Environment – if the manual task cannot be eliminated, consider reducing the load, improving the environment or implementing better procedures, such as involving a second person in the lift.
  • Any mechanical equipment provided must be suitable for the task and properly maintained. The equipment may introduce other hazards into the work, such as moving parts, and should be risk assessed prior to use.

9. Hazardous substances

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002 require managers to prevent the exposure of their staff to harmful substances or processes.

  • All substances must be assessed before being used or created as a by-product of another process and before employees are exposed.
  • A suitable and sufficient assessment is the heart of the COSHH. It is in effect a management plan, based upon sound knowledge of the substance or process to be used.
  • If monitoring is required to ensure that adequate control is being achieved, a sampling regime will be required, which should be designed by a qualified occupational hygienist.

10. Driving at work

Managers must undertake a risk assessment in accordance with MHSW when work routines involve driving.

  • Current legislation governing driver hours is not applicable to car drivers, but managers could be liable if it is shown that an accident occurred due to poor work routines, vehicle maintenance or undue time pressures.
  • All accidents and incidents should be reported in the same manner as any other work-related incident.
  • If the company expects drivers to be contactable, hands-free systems must be provided.

11. New and expectant mothers

Risks to new and expectant mothers must be assessed as soon as the employer is made aware and facilities made available to ensure the health of the mother while at work.

  • As pregnancy develops, the woman’s shape changes and therefore the workstation needs to be kept under review to ensure that it is being adapted to allow for those changes.
  • Where possible, give the employee some control over the way work is organised in order to help reduce stress and lower her blood pressure.
  • If, having made all possible adjustments to the work, the risk to the woman remains unacceptable, the line manager should consult with the employee and the HR manager with a view to a transfer to a suitable alternative work.

12. Young workers

By virtue of their age, young workers can be more vulnerable to accidents while at work; systems must be in place to take account of this and afford them the same degree of safety as any other workers.

  • A young person is defined as being above the minimum school leaving age but less than 18 years old.
  • A child is someone who is below the minimum school leaving age.
  • A risk assessment must be carried before the young person starts work.

13. Working at home

Working at home is on the increase; employers must therefore ensure that procedures exist to assess the situation and provide home-workers with safe equipment and systems of work.

  • The employer must conduct a risk assessment of the home-working location and task prior to authorising or employing a person to work at home on a permanent or semi-permanent basis.
  • In setting up home workstations, careful consideration should be given to DSE Guidance and to the employer’s official Health and Safety Policy.
  • If an accident or incident (such as a near miss) that occurs at home is related to the work activity, it must be reported to the appropriate line manager, following normal in-house procedures.

14. Work related stress

Stress is considered to be the single largest cause of occupational ill health, accounting for over a third of all new incidences of ill health.

It is ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed on them’.

Managers have a responsibility towards the health of their staff and should

  • do a risk assessment
  • train staff in skills related to coping with stress
  • ensure that work loads are reasonable
  • work on the basis that prevention is the best approach.

15. Corporate manslaughter

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act came into force on the 6th April 2008. This does not change the onus on a company to adhere to good practices and follow health and safety regulations, but does mean that where death occurs, the company can now be prosecuted much more easily since former loopholes in the law are now closed.