Duty of care meaning: Find out what could be missing from your health and safety policy

September 7, 2020
Caroline Preece

If you’re reading this, you likely want to learn more about your duty of care and how you could be protecting your at-risk and lone workers. Perhaps you already have a lone worker policy in place but want to check you’re not missing anything vital in your plans? Maybe you don’t have any idea how to start. Either way, it’s crucial to get the terminology straight. 

The phrase you’ll hear a lot in the health and safety space is ‘duty of care’. This refers to the responsibility of companies towards their workers and the steps that need to be taken towards this goal so as to avoid legal action. It’s important to remember that it doesn’t take someone actually being hurt for this legal action to be taken - just the risk of harm. The minimum an employer must do is:

  • Identify potential causes of injury or illness
  • Determine the risk these hazards could potentially pose
  • Take meaningful action to control the risk

Duty of care law

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, companies must safeguard the health, safety and wellbeing of workers to the best of their ability, including where possible introducing new or updated measures to do so. These measures must be regularly reviewed and changed where needed, and there should be readily-accessible documentation of these actions.

The health and safety law poster must be displayed clearly in your workspace and, if this isn’t possible (as may be the case with a workforce that often operates remotely), all workers need to be provided with a leaflet containing the same information. These can be downloaded here.

Workplace health and safety is covered by both criminal and civil law, and failure to comply could result in not only an employee being hurt, injured or harmed but also - often very expensive - legal action being taken against your company.

Whether this takes the form of criminal law proceedings from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or a local authority, or a civil lawsuit brought by the employee in question depends on the circumstances of the incident. Should a civil lawsuit be successful, the court will likely decide to award damages to the claimant for suffering caused, which can almost always be covered by liability insurance.

Even if these Is are dotted and Ts crossed, however, if you employ people routinely working alone or in dangerous situations such as working at height, you need to be very careful about including them in your health and safety policy.

How to build your policy

Constructing a lone worker policy strong enough to withstand any challenge to your business’s commitment to its duty of care can initially feel a bit daunting. But, providing a few specific steps are taken, you can rest easy in the knowledge that your workers are taken care of. To begin, you should conduct a risk assessment.

Risk assessments are designed to make employers take stock of the current health and safety situation and find ways to improve it. This can mean anything from a thorough tidy up and organisational system for your cluttered workspace to equipping lone workers with personal safety alarms so they are protected even when working without supervision. 

To make your life easier at this stage, you can download our risk assessment template here. In short - though this list is not exhaustive - the risk assessment should cover:

  • Environmental hazards e.g. trips, slips and falls
  • Training (or lack thereof) and how equipment is used
  • Risk of assault, robbery etc.
  • Dangerous chemicals and hazardous substances
  • Communication barriers between workers and supervisors
  • Accidents while travelling
  • Working at height
  • Sudden illness or injury

You should determine how these hazards might impact your workforce, how high of a risk they pose, and what can be done to mitigate the danger.

If you have five or more employees, the resulting policy and how (and when) things can be improved must be written down and kept. This must then be shared with your workers so that they are aware of the steps that have been taken. The documentation should contain:

  • Statement of intent - your overall health and safety policy, its aims, and your commitment to managing it going forward. This needs to be signed by the most senior person in the organisation.
  • Responsibilities - a list of names of the people responsible for health and safety matters, and their roles.
  • Arrangements - details of the measures that have been put in place, as well as how objectives set out in the policy can be achieved.

To find out more about Vatix services and how we can help with your lone worker risk assessment, click here or call us on 020 3991 5555.

Image credit: Andrii Yalanskyi/shutterstock.com

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