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Health and Safety at Work Act

OPERATIONS

30th June 2015

What do you know about the Health and Safety at Work Act? If you’re an employer, knowing what’s required of you is essential for running a law-abiding company and protecting your employees. If you’re a worker, a good knowledge of the Health and Safety at Work Act will ensure that you’re able to stand up for your rights whilst going about your job.

What is the Health and Safety at Work Act?

Introduced in 1974, the Health and Safety at Work Act provides protection for employees. All employees have a right to be kept safe from a risk of harm whilst they’re working, whether they’re in an office or commercial building or are out and about.

Accidents do occasionally happen, and are sometimes unavoidable, but an employer has to meet requirements to show that they’re providing reasonable protection. This does not mean that employers need to meet unrealistic expectations or completely eliminate all risk.

What are the basic things that an employer has to do?

As a brief guide, the following things need to be provided:

  • Companies with five or more employees need a Health and Safety policy, which should be regularly reviewed. It should cover things like a fire evacuation plan, equipment maintenance information and details about how risks will be reduced. It should also mention who is responsible for each aspect, so that there is no confusion.
  • All companies should do a Risk Assessment, which recognises potential risks and details how they’ll be reduced or avoided. Companies with five or more employees need to produce the Risk Assessment in written format. A Risk Assessment should cover those working from home, as well as the general public, not just people that work on the company site.
  • Managers and business owners should consult with employees about Health and Safety, taking into account any concerns and suggestions for improvement. Managers can choose to consult employees directly, or to employ the services of an independent Health and Safety representative who must be chosen by the employees rather than the employer.
  • Companies must provide any necessary training to reduce risks in the workplace, and should also provide clear information where needed (including clear notes about risks and how to avoid them, as well as details about emergency procedures).
  • Employers should provide appropriate facilities – everything from clean toilets to accessibility tools for those with disabilities. Drinking water is also essential, as well as somewhere for employees to eat and to safely store their belongings. Employees in an office may eat at their desk, if you’re happy for them to do so. Spaces for eating and storage do not need to be completely separate from workspaces.
  • Employers are required to create a safe working environment, with good ventilation and a temperature of at least 16°C, or 13°C if workers are doing manual jobs. Adequate lighting is essential, and the environment should be clean. There are no legal requirements concerning a maximum working temperature, but employers are expected to make sure that the environment is comfortable and not too hot. The working environment should also have space for people to move (and escape in an emergency) without a risk of tripping or falling.
  • Companies need to have a well-stocked first aid kit on each working site. At least one appointed person should be responsible for providing basic first aid, ideally with official training/a first aid qualification.
  • Companies need to have accident reporting facilities, so that all accidents (involving staff or the general public) can be noted. This should be the case no matter how small the injury, and is as much for the protection and defence of the company as it is for employees and members of the public.
  • Information about Health and Safety law must be displayed as a visible poster for all employees to see. Alternatively, a copy can be provided to each employee.
  • Employers are required to have appropriate insurance. This usually includes Employers’ Liability Insurance and might also include Public Liability Insurance, as a bare minimum.
  • In some industries there are additional Health and Safety requirements. These industries include those that involve working in toxic environments, such as environments with asbestos, and those that involve working in tight spaces such as mines. Divers, likewise, have specific additional requirements.

What else should employers think about?

Meeting the requirements of the Health and Safety at Work Act is an ongoing process. Many things change over time, so an employer should not become complacent. Equipment needs to be regularly checked, safety tested and maintained, whilst working environments are always evolving and changing. Paths might be clear one day, but the next an employee might have trailed cables along.

Employers have a duty to be constantly aware of the environment that they provide for their workers, and should make changes to policies as needed. Training should also be kept up to date, which may mean that top up training is required or that staff members need to be trained in a whole new area.

Finally, employers should be constantly aware of their insurance coverage. Insurance needs can change from year to year, which means that insurance policies should be reviewed annually or whenever they come up for renewal.

By being aware of changes to your business, whether you’re the employer or the employee, you’re able to reduce risks for members of staff and members of the public.

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