Health and safety law – getting staff to comply

Making sure your employees do their bit to maintain safety at work

Health and safety isn’t just a one way street. Employees also have a common law duty of care. This means that they must exercise ‘reasonable skill and care’ in their relationship with both their employer and colleagues.

In addition, the Health and Safety at Work Act requires employees to take reasonable care for the health and safety of themselves and other people at work. This extends to co-operating to enable their employer to fulfil a legal duty.

Employees must not interfere with or obstruct anything provided in the interests of health and safety at work.

An employee who is in breach of his or her duties under the Act may be liable to pay a fine on conviction. He or she may also be dismissed from employment for being in breach of a contractual duty to carry out work with proper care and skill, provided the employee was properly instructed about the safety measures and had been made aware that the interference could lead to dismissal.

There are also regulations requiring employers to provide general information to employees and to consult representatives on health and safety matters.

As an employer you must display a poster or distribute leaflets giving general information about the requirements of health and safety law. Information must be provided on risks to which employees are exposed and the procedures to be taken in the event of danger.

Employers have the choice of consulting their employees either directly, that is individually, or collectively through safety representatives. These will be trade union representatives, or for groups not covered by trade unions, other representatives.

You must provide the necessary information to enable the employees’ safety representatives to participate in the consultation. In the case of safety representatives, the information must also be sufficient to enable them to carry out their functions under the Regulations. These include:

  • investigation of potential hazards and dangerous occurrences and examine the causes of accidents

  •  investigation of members’ complaints

  • making representations to the employer

  • carrying out inspections at least every three months and after a notifiable accident, dangerous occurrence or after a notifiable disease has been contracted

  • consulting and receiving information from HSE inspectors and other enforcement officers on behalf of members

  • attending meetings of the safety committee

As an employer, you must also ensure that each safety representative is provided with reasonable training that is funded by your company.

Employers must also allow each representative paid time-off during working hours to enable them to undergo training or to perform their functions, and must allow similar time off to a candidate for election as a representative.

A representative or candidate has a right to complain to an employment tribunal if their employer fails to provide this.


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