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Who is responsible for workplace health and safety?

As an employer, it is important to understand who is responsible for health and safety in the workplace and what actions you can take to ensure the health and safety of your employees, contractors and others who may be affected by your operational activities.

Employers hold most of the responsibility for workplace health and safety, although no one person is solely accountable. In fact, The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 defines the general duties of everyone from employers and employees to business owners, managers and more (eg. maintainers of work premises) as maintaining health and safety within the workplace. In short, everybody is responsible in some part for workplace health and safety.

HSE roles and responsibilities

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is Great Britain’s national regulator for workplace health, safety and welfare. HSE’s purpose is to prevent work-related death, injury and ill health.

HSE’s responsibilities are primarily concentrated on the most serious risks within the workplace, targeting industries with the greatest hazards and sectors with the worst risk management records. HSE provides support to businesses by offering free advice and guidance to employers to help them manage workplace risks correctly.

Employer health and safety responsibilities

While ensuring responsibility for workplace health and safety does not fall under one person, HSE states that: “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.” Therefore, the majority of the responsibility belongs to the employer.

To fulfil their responsibilities, an employer must:

Carry out risk assessments

Employers are responsible for carrying out both generic and specific risk assessments (for example, coronavirus risk assessment, manual handling operations risk assessment, etc) to ensure that employees have all the information they need about the hazards, risks and relevant controls in their workplace.

Carrying out a risk assessment involves inspecting the workplace to determine all significant hazards and putting measures in place to eliminate, reduce, or control identified risks.

Risk assessments should highlight how employees are protected and are designed to instruct and inform employees on how to manage the risks.

Identify who needs protecting from potential hazards

Employers need to consider the health and safety of everyone on the premises or who could be affected by their operational activities. This includes all employees, contractors, part-time staff and people with specific requirements, such as pregnant women or those with disabilities.

Implement health and safety procedures

Employers must implement suitable and sufficient health and safety procedures by arranging for the installation, maintenance and management of any equipment or activity necessary to keep people safe. For example, this could involve supplying PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), replacing old equipment or providing your staff with additional training.

Create a health and safety policy

Creating a health and safety policy to make all staff aware of the relevant procedures is a legal requirement for all businesses. The policy should be documented if there are more than five employees, cover all health and safety procedures in the workplace, including fire safety and first aid, and be readily accessible by your employees, on-site contractors and other interested parties.

The policy should also detail how you manage workplace health and safety, such as risk assessment details, evacuation plans, staff training and consultation. The policy should also include the names of anyone with specific health and safety duties, for example, first aiders or fire wardens.

Display the health and safety law poster

It is a legal requirement for all employers to display the health and safety law poster, which outlines British health and safety laws and summarises the duties of staff and employers. It must be displayed in a place where workers can easily read it. For businesses with multiple sites, this will mean displaying a poster per location or remote workers can be provided with an equivalent leaflet or pocket card.

Communicate with employees

It’s essential for employers to regularly communicate with their employees regarding health and safety matters. You should inform and involve your employees of any changes or additional controls that are being made to manage health and safety risks to create a safe working environment.

You should also find out if your employees have any concerns around risks and associated policies, and encourage their ideas for operating your business safely.

Provide training and first aid kits

Every business needs to have appointed first-aiders and a suitably-stocked first aid kit. There is no set number of first-aiders required, as it depends on your specific workplace risks and the type of injuries that may occur. As guidance, HSE recommends that low-hazard workplaces have at least one qualified first-aider for every 100 staff while high-hazard workplaces have one per 50 staff. The specific requirements for each workplace will be determined by a specific first-aid assessment which must be completed.

You should also provide training to ensure that all employees understand all potential risks in the workplace. Depending on the employee’s role, the specific type of health and safety training that they require may vary. For example, staff who regularly lift heavy objects should receive manual handling training, while those working with harmful substances may require chemical spill training.

Employee health and safety responsibilities

According to HSE: “workers have a duty to take care of their own health and safety and that of others who may be affected by [their] actions at work.” Therefore, employees share some workplace health and safety responsibilities with their employer. They must cooperate with their employer and co-workers to help everyone meet their legal requirements and stay safe in the workplace.

To help keep the workplace safe, employees must:

Follow health and safety instruction

All employees should follow any health and safety instructions and training they receive. This is to ensure that they work safely and take care of themselves and others who may be affected by their actions. Employees must never misuse any equipment provided for health and safety purposes, such as fire extinguishers and fire alarms.

Attend health and safety training

Employees must attend any health and safety training to ensure they keep themselves and their colleagues safe in the workplace.

Adhere to safety procedures.

Employees must always adhere to safety procedures and must wear PPE at all times, as required.

Report any hazards or failings in safety procedures.

If an employee thinks something could be a risk to their health and safety or the health and safety of others, they should report it to senior members of staff. For example, if the employee discovers faulty equipment or broken PPE, they must inform a relevant manager immediately so the hazard can be removed or suitably controlled. Employees should also inform senior staff if there is a risk with no appropriate control measure in place.

Be proactive

As employees must maintain good health and safety practices within their workplace, they should be proactive in their approach to upholding health and safety standards. For example, they should tidy away obstructions and clean up after themselves to help avoid accidents.

Stay safe together

While the main responsibility of health and safety in the workplace falls on the employer, it is also the responsibility of the employee to help create a safe working environment.