Employers beware!

by Aneka Shoukat

All workers are entitled to work in environments where risks to their health and safety are properly controlled. The law places a duty on all employers “to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work” of all their employees. But what does this actually mean in practical terms? Employers have to ensure the safe operation and maintenance of the working environment, systems, the maintenance of safe access and exit to the workplace, the safe use, handling and storage of dangerous substances, adequate training of staff to ensure health and safety and finally adequate welfare provisions for staff at work.

If you have more than 5 employees then you need a written Health & Safety policy which is reviewed regularly. Employers also have a legal duty to display the 2009 Health & Safety poster in a prominent position in the workplace or to provide each worker with a copy of the approved leaflet which can be found on the HSE website. To help avoid an unnecessary burden on businesses, the HSE Board set a five-year transition period for replacing the 1999 poster and leaflet. The 1999 poster or leaflet should have been replaced with the 2009 poster or leaflet by no later than 5 April 2014. If you still have the old poster up, then you are in breach!

The HSE is the UK government body responsible for enforcing health and safety at work legislation. But did you know the HSE is now self-funding? In addition their fines are based on turnover not profit. Turnover is the net sales generated by a business, while profit is the residual earnings of a business after all expenses have been charged against net sales. The HSE can enter any business without a warrant and can enter unannounced. They can also call in without an accident occurring.

The HSE does not need to find an actual risk in order to be able to fine you. The HSE can fine you for a potential risk in your workplace. If a potential risk is found then the HSE can charge £129.00 an hour and you could also face a £1,500.00 intervention fee. For small businesses this could be extremely damaging and many will not be able to afford to pay the fine.

So what can you do to prevent a fine? Well you can do exactly that. Prevention. You should firstly identify the hazards. A hazard is anything that may cause harm, such as chemicals, electricity, working from ladders, an open drawer etc. Secondly decide who might be harmed and how. This is most likely to be an employee. You must then evaluate the risks and decide on precautions. The risk is the chance, high or low, that somebody could be harmed by these and other hazards, together with an indication of how serious the harm could be. Once this is done ensure you record your significant findings. This should be detailed in a document. You should then review your assessment and update if necessary.

So what do workers have to do? 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. They must follow the training they’ve received when using any work items their employer has given them. They must co-operate with employers on health and safety and tell someone (employer, supervisor, or health and safety representative) if they think the work or inadequate precautions are putting anyone’s health and safety at risk.

Prevention is key for all employers. Don’t wait until you get a call from the HSE to take action. Take action now!

Shire Solicitors
7 Eldon Place

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