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Health and Safety Legislation: What You Need to be Aware of

By: Paul MacKenzie-Cummings - Updated: 5 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Health And Safety Legislation Work

All employees are entitled to work in an environment whereby their health and safety is protected and controlled. Under health and safety law, this responsibility lies with employers. But employees also need to take responsibility for their own safety and ensure that they understand the company’s policies and procedures to prevent putting themselves at risk.

Each year 30 million working days are lost in the UK as a direct result of work-related stress (24 million days lost) and personal injury (6 million days lost). In other words, 1 in 3 British workers are affected by work-related issues which is why health and safety is top of the agenda for improving business practices.

Here are the key health and safety rules that you need to be aware of:

Your Responsibility As An Employee

The emergence of a US-style compensation culture, fuelled by a plethora of legal firms that promise ‘no-win, no-fee’, has seen the number of personal injury claims continue to rise over the last ten years.

However, contrary to popular perception, as employees you have a duty and responsibility for your health and safety and the wellbeing of your colleagues. Workers may be liable to prosecution as well if they interfere with anything provided in the interests of health and safety. Consequently, health and safety legislation requires both employers and employees to cooperate.

The key areas that you need to familiarise yourself with are:

  • Locations of all fire exits
  • Understand the company’s fire and other emergency evacuation procedures
  • How to report an accident or incident and who to make the report to
  • Check who the onsite First Aider is and keep their details to hand in your new contacts list
  • If you are a smoker, check the company’s smoking policy and locate the designated smoking areas
  • Familiarise yourself with the personal safety guidelines in your employee’s handbook

Employer Responsibility

Under the Health and Safety Act (1974), employers who are in control of workplaces have a duty to ensure the health and safety of all their employees and anyone who uses the premises “so far as is reasonably practicable”.

A ‘workplace’ is legally defined as a factory, shop, office, hospital, school, hotel, entertainment venue, private roads and paths on industrial estates and business complexes in addition to temporary worksites such as a building site.

What Can Be Done?

Despite the good intentions of legislation, the fact still remains that every five seconds a worker in the EU is involved in a work-related accident. And, more alarming is the statistic that one worker dies in an accident every two hours, according to an EU report.

The following is a - non exhaustive list - summarizes some of the areas that fall within the remit of health and safety law:

  • ventilation
  • temperature
  • lighting
  • cleanliness and waste materials
  • sanitation
  • smoking
  • computer usage

So, if you think that you are being put into a position whereby you or your colleagues’ health and safety is jeopardised, here’s what you can do about it.

Speak to your line manager or, if you prefer, your company’s health and safety office or trade union representative.

Alternatively, if you feel that your concerns have fallen on deaf ears and you can’t get anyone in your company to take appropriate action, then you can get confidential help and advice by calling the Health and Safety Executive’s Info Line on 08453 450 055 (open 8.00 am to 6.00 pm, Monday to Friday).

The HSE is the health and safety regulator in the UK, workers who exercise their health and safety statutory rights are protected from detrimental action by their employer which means that your employer cannot discriminate or discipline you for reporting your concerns.

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