What Are the Main Health and Safety Responsibilities of Employers?

October 8, 2020
Caroline Preece

Achieving optimum health and safety at work is a group effort that involves everyone from employers and full-time staff to contractors and even visitors. If a company does not have the basics of its health and safety down, then it can lead to bad outcomes for any or all of these categories of people, but this is where the health and safety responsibilities of employers come in. 

Referred to most often as the ‘duty of care’ towards employees (it also applies to the self-employed), the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 outlines the legal requirements surrounding the health and wellbeing of people at work. In a nutshell, the HSE explains it as:

“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. Employers must do whatever is reasonably practicable to achieve this.”

But to be able to comply with exceptional workplace health and safety standards, there first needs to be a policy in place. Without this, no one will know what to do if a hazardous situation arises, and this can lead to a safety nightmare for everyone involved.

But knowing who must be responsible for this can be difficult, so here we will outline employer responsibilities for health and safety, who is responsible for the completion of risk assessments, as well the role workers need to play.

Employer Responsibilities For Health and Safety

The law states that employers are responsible for the welfare of their employees and anyone else who could be impacted by their business. In cases where 100% safety cannot be achieved, then they should do everything ‘reasonably practicable’.

There are many parts to achieving this, from assigning certain duties to the most ‘competent’ person in the organisation, to simply speaking with workers about what risks they may face on a daily basis. It’s also important for any new or updated health and safety policies and regulations to be communicated clearly to everyone across the business - even those not based in central headquarters.

The main health and safety responsibilities of employers are:

Educate yourself on the law

Even if it feels quite daunting at first, it’s important for all employers to educate themselves on health and safety law in their country. If nothing else, this means that you will be prepared for what could happen should action ever be taken against the business.

In the UK both criminal and civil law are relevant to health and safety matters. For example, it’s possible for a local authority or even the HSE itself to take legal action under criminal law, while a person who has been effected by an incident can claim compensation through civil law. The two are of course related, but largely disconnected from one another in this case.

Employers should also have employers’ liability insurance to cover the cost of compensation should a civil case be taken out. This is required by law.

The most important thing to note is that the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 doesn’t just apply when actual harm has been done - it requires only the risk of harm. This is why the next step is absolutely necessary to avoid action being taken against your business.

Conduct a risk assessment

Why are risk assessments important? As said, a risk assessment can be the most effective tool in your arsenal when it comes to ensuring your workplace health and safety policy is up to scratch. Without this, you may as well be flying blind in regards to what hazards you and your workers are most likely to encounter.

This is especially vital if you employ lone workers or work within a particularly high-risk industry. Lone working can leave employees vulnerable to additional risks such as injury while away from supervisors so hazards like slips, trips and falls or working from height need to be looked at very closely.

A risk assessment will ensure that you are prepared for any eventuality that arises. If you don’t already have one, you can download our lone worker risk assessment template here.

Choose your health and safety leaders

The HSE asks that an employer choose a competent person to help the business as a whole achieve health and safety compliance. This person needs to have skills, experience and knowledge of the job in question, as well as the health and safety risks that may be involved.

This person can be you or it can be someone else on your team and, if your organisation covers multiple areas, it can be more than one person. You can also choose a consultant or advisor from outside of your business.

health and safety responsibilities of employers woman conducting risk assessment

Create a health and safety policy

Once you have the results from your risk assessment, you can create a robust health and safety policy. This should cover your overall rules and regulations as well as specific information on who will be responsible for certain areas (i.e. your competent person or people). If you employ five or more people, this policy needs to be in writing.

Writing your lone worker or health and safety is an important step in the process and will look slightly different for every business - you can download our guide for step-by-step instructions on how to do this.

Speak with employees and make training available

It’s vital that you communicate your plans with staff, whether that’s full-time workers or contractors, as it is usually them who are on the ground dealing with the risks and hazards that have been identified. The lines of communication should ideally be open before, during and after you create your policy.

After the new plans have been given out, training should be provided to allow employees to thoroughly understand the regulations that need to be followed. If certain people are in charge of ensuring that the health and safety policy is followed, they will need to receive more detailed guidelines on their duties and responsibilties. 

Provide reliable incident reporting solutions

Even with the best health and safety policy in the world, accidents will still likely happen from time to time. But there are ways to significantly mitigate the severity of these incidents and give workers the power to raise the alarm should something happen while they’re at work. 

One of the best solutions are lone worker alarms, which can be used by anyone who may need to call for help during their shift. The idea behind these wearable devices is that users can press a dedicated SOS button if they are in trouble or have suddenly fallen ill, and many also include a Man Down alarm sensor that alerts a chosen contact if a worker has fallen. 

For more details on health and safety law, make sure to explore the HSE guide online.

Achieving Health and Safety Compliance for Your Business

While a lot of the responsibility for workplace health and safety does fall on the shoulders of the employer, employees also have a role to play.

Workers have a duty of care towards their own health and safety and that of others who could be impacted by their actions, and it is also a responsibility of the employee that they co-operate with the rules and policies outlined by their employer.

But overall it falls to the employer to properly devise, outline and communicate health and safety plans that are designed to protect everyone’s welfare. While this can certainly be a challenge, it ultimately leads to a happier, more productive workforce.

How can we help?

To find out more about how Vatix can help your business be proactive in its safety measures, or if you are interested in our lone worker services, click here or call us on 020 3820 1857.

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