We all have a right to be safe when we’re at work, but the responsibility for ensuring this falls on both employers and employees. Whilst employers are in charge of protecting their staff and introducing appropriate safety measures to remove risk, employees must follow any guidance they are given and also take the initiative to avoid hazardous situations and keep their colleagues safe.
Some of the most important employee health and safety responsibilities are outlined in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, but there are other responsibilities that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) outline that highlight what employees need to do to stay safe at work. In this article, we explain employee rights and responsibilities concerning health and safety and highlight the consequences if an employee does not comply with health and safety regulations.
Within British workplaces, the primary piece of legislation which is responsible for health and safety standards is the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, also referred to as HASAWA or HSW. This legislation outlines a number of responsibilities that employers have in regard to maintaining a safe work environment but also the legal responsibilities that employees have when it comes to staying safe at work.
This important piece of legislation places the major responsibility for employee safety on employers, as they are the ones with the most control over providing a safe environment for work. However, this does not mean that all of the responsibility is on employers. Employees also have input when it comes to keeping themselves and others safe while at work.
Under the Health and Safety at Work Act, employees have a duty of care in the workplace and are responsible for contributing to creating a safe working environment.
The first point means that when employees are in the workplace, they have a responsibility to look after themselves and not engage in any behaviour that puts their safety at risk. This means avoiding dangerous situations, following health and safety guidelines and using common sense to stay safe at work.
It also means that employees have to be aware of how their actions at work may affect their colleagues or any other people around them. Not only are they responsible for keeping themselves safe at work, but they are also responsible for protecting other people they interact with, which means thinking about the impact of their actions and avoiding taking any risks that could harm other people.
The second of the main Health and Safety at Work Act employee responsibilities is that employees must listen to what their employer tells them about health and safety. This involves completing mandatory training, following instructions and official procedures, and paying attention to any hazards that are highlighted in the workplace. Employers are responsible for implementing measures that keep the workplace safe, but employees need to comply with these measures so that they’re effective.
Along with the legal responsibilities outlined in the key pieces of legislation, there is additional guidance above ensuring you enact your health and safety responsibilities as an employee. This is based on the legislation we highlighted above, but also general health and safety guidelines from HSE about staying safe at work.
There are four main elements to employee responsibilities for health and safety at work.
If your employer has explained how to do something and given explicit instructions, then it is your legal obligation to follow them. If you have carried out a task and suffered an injury, then it is not fair to place the blame on the employer if you did not carry out the task as they instructed.
Health and safety training is mandatory for a range of industries where day-to-day work carries a moderate risk of harm, such as construction, the police and healthcare. But employees working in an office environment may be required to take fire safety training or manual handling training if it’s relevant to their role, which must be followed where necessary.
This also involves following official guidance when using any safety equipment that the employer has given to you. If we think about a dangerous construction site for example, employers will have carried out a robust risk assessment and included details on how jobs can be done safely. If you don’t wear eyeglasses as instructed when using a power saw, any injury is not the fault of the employer.
There have been countless lawsuits in the past that have revealed that rather than the employer being negligent, the employee simply didn’t do enough to keep him or herself safe. You must use your own common sense to keep yourself safe when at work. It’s not entirely up to your employer to make sure that you don’t do something that would cause you injury.
For the most part, employees are naturally going to do what they can to keep themselves safe. But always bear in mind that you shouldn’t be taking any unnecessary risks and you should only carry out tasks that you are confident that you can do safely.
Along with keeping yourself safe, you must also not do anything that might put your co-workers at risk. This can include things like reporting anything you find that you think is unsafe, not leaving trip hazards, and not asking anyone to do anything potentially dangerous such as moving excessively heavy objects.
Workplaces are a collaborative environment, which is why there are health and safety responsibilities as an employee that involves a duty to others as well as yourself. Cooperation will also mean working together on ensuring that health and safety policy is accurate and effective.
Employers must engage with staff on this subject, and employees are obliged to respond where they can. Make an effort to follow the guidelines for staying safe at work, advise other employees on how to reduce risk when they’re working, and always listen to your employer if they ask you to change your behaviour because of a safety risk.
The last of the employee responsibilities for health and safety at work is that you must always report concerns that you have about the safety of your working environment. This includes other people’s behaviour or a lack of precautions that you feel are making a situation unsafe. You can report concerns about workplace health and safety to your employer, a manager or supervisor, or a health and safety representative at your workplace.
As an employee, you also need to make sure that you report any accidents, injuries or potentially hazardous experiences you have at work, even if nothing bad actually comes from them. This is very important, as it tells your employer where more health and safety precautions are needed and can stop the same thing from happening again to another employee.
The Health and Safety at Work Act and other industry-specific legislation all outline employee rights and responsibilities concerning health and safety. Failure to uphold these responsibilities or follow official guidance can lead to a range of negative consequences.
Firstly, failing to comply with health and safety regulations means that you run the risk of getting injured or having an accident whilst at work. Not only can this be bad for you, but you also risk harming others with unsafe behaviour, meaning that there could be multiple casualties from an accident or you might cause harm to someone else.
Under health and safety law employees have a duty to follow their employer’s instructions on how to stay safe at work, and if you’re discovered to be disobeying this then you may lose your job. This may hinder future job prospects as well if you have to explain what led to a role termination or just gain a reputation in your industry area for failing to follow rules.
If you cause an accident or an issue at work and are taken to court because of it, you risk serious legal consequences if you are found to have been ignoring health and safety legislation. The punishment for these kinds of offences varies on a case-by-case basis, but two common consequences are significant fines or even time in jail for serious offences.
Under the Health and Safety at Work Act, employees must do what they can to protect their own safety and the safety of their colleagues and other people around them. Employees must also follow any guidance or instructions given to them by their employer about maintaining a safe working environment and helping their employer keep the workplace safe.
All employees should be given information about all of the potential risks that are present in their workplace so that they can be aware of what to look out for and know what kinds of behaviour to avoid. They also need to be told about the measures that are being taken to protect them at work and be given access to appropriate training or instruction on how they can stay safe from the aforementioned risks.
Under the Health and Safety Act 1974, employees have the right to be safe at work and should be protected by their employers. Employees should be given appropriate training and protective equipment to remove or reduce the risk of harm when at work, and have a right to take their employer to court if they sustain an injury that could have been prevented.
Knowing your responsibilities as an employee can be useful in informing your behaviour at work and knowing when you should act to improve workplace health and safety. Staying safe at work should be straightforward in the majority of industries, as long as you follow all the training you have been given and exercise common sense to avoid harming yourself and other people.
If you’re looking for more advice and guidance on employee health and safety in the workplace, our ‘Complete Health & Safety Package’ includes 12 different online health and safety training courses that offer a comprehensive look at staying safe at work.