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Who is responsible for health and safety in the workplace?

Health and safety in the workplace is important as it ensures that all employees, and any members of the public who are affected by a business, are safe. The primary responsibility for health and safety in the workplace always rests with the employer. This does not mean, however, that the employer is the only person who is responsible for health and safety in the workplace.

Employers have a duty to ensure the safety of their employees, and employees have rights which include being provided with safety equipment and protective clothing free of charge, having rest breaks, having time off work during the working week, being able to report concerns about health and safety, being able to stop and leave the work area if there are reasonable concerns about safety, and having risks in the workplace controlled and minimised. Employees should also be free to contact the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) without fear of discrimination or reprisals.

An employee should also take reasonable care of their own health and safety. Employees should wear sensible clothing when operating machinery, as loose clothing or dangling jewellery, for example, could present a risk. They must also take reasonable care not to put their co-workers or members of the public at risk through their actions. All employees must co-operate with the employer on matters of training, and understand and follow the company’s health and safety policy. An employee should not interfere with or misuse anything that has been provided for health and safety reasons.

It is the responsibility of the employee to report any illnesses, injuries or strains suffered on the job and also to inform their employer if there are any changes in their circumstances which would necessitate a change in the way they perform their job, such as pregnancy. Employees must also tell their employer if they are taking any medication which could affect their ability to perform their job safely, such as taking medication which induces drowsiness when having to drive a vehicle.

A company may appoint a workplace health and safety officer. The role of this individual is to assist managers by providing information and advice on the state of health and safety in the workplace. The health and safety officer should work with the employer to improve the implementation of health and safety legislation. This role carries considerable responsibility and it is important, therefore, that the right person is chosen. Whilst the health and safety officer is not responsible for assessing the safety of equipment, they are responsible for the setting up of health and safety systems and procedures, and for improving the attitude of staff towards health and safety.

The health and safety officer also provides both the employer and employees with a single point of contact for concerns about any health and safety issues. It is the health and safety officer’s responsibility to stay up-to-date on the latest health and safety legislation and to ensure through training and advice that both the employer and employees are aware of any changes that will affect them.

If you have suffered a work-related injury or illness, Accident Advice Helpline can offer you sympathetic advice on whether you can claim or not, and how to proceed with any claim.