Do you know what your health and safety responsibilities at work are? Or what you have the right to be provided with by your employer?

In 2017/18 there were 1.4 million people suffering from a work-related illness in Great Britain and 555,000 non-fatal injuries.

Health and safety in the workplace is everyone's responsibility. While employers have primary responsibility for all health and safety matters, all employees play a crucial role in preventing accidents and work-related illness.

What are your health and safety rights at work?

All employees have the right to work in a place where risks to health and safety are adequately controlled in order to prevent you from becoming injured or ill while performing your duties. It is your right, as an employee, to have access to adequate first aid facilities, suitable and sufficient toilets, washing facilities and drinking water. 

Providing adequate first aid facilities means having an appropriate number of stocked first aid kits and qualified first aiders in relation to the number of staff on the premises. You must also be provided with any personal protective equipment (PPE) which is necessary for the safe performance of your job.

You also have the right to stop working at any time and to leave an area if you feel that you are at risk. All employees should feel safe at all times whilst at work.

Furthermore, it is your right to inform your employer of any health and safety concerns that you might have and to escalate this by contacting the HSE or your local authority if these health and safety concerns are not addressed. You cannot legally face sanction from your employer for this.

All employees are entitled to a rest break of a minimum length of 20 minutes if you work for more than six hours at a time. You are also entitled to an annual period of paid leave.

As an employee you have the right to join a trade union and become a safety representative. A safety representative's role includes investigating hazards or dangerous occurences, attending safety committees, and representing employees in discussions with their employers in regards to health, safety and welfare. Safety representatives have the right to paid time off work for training and carrying out functions related to their role as a safety representative.

What are your employer's responsibilities regarding health and safety in the workplace?

Your employer has primary responsibility for health and safety in the workplace. This means they must decide what risks there are to your health and safety and implement ways of eliminating or reducing these risks. This should take the form of a risk assessment, followed by relevant actions, such as providing PPE, installing signs, providing fire extinguishers and first aid kits, etc.

Employers must explain how risks are being controlled and who bears immediate the responsibility for controlling these risks. Employers are responsible for consulting with health and safety representatives and employees in general regarding a safe working environment. This means your employer must consult you regarding how to protect you from anything they have assessed as a potential risk resulting from your work. Employers must provide you with adequate first aid facilities, toilets, drinking water and washing facilities, and these should be provided adequately in relation to the number of staff on-site and the nature of work taking place there.

Your employer must also provide you with the training necessary for you to do your job safely for free. They must also provide you with the equipment and protective clothing you need to perform your job as safely as possible. Employers are responsible for recording and reporting any injuries, diseases, dangerous incidents and fatalities to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Employers must hold appropriate insurance to cover you in case of illness or injury through work, and they must display the insurance certificate where it can be easily viewed by all employees. This should be in a frequently used communal area, to ensure all employees have access to it.

As an employee, what are your responsibilities regarding health and safety?

As an employee, you also have responsibilities. All employees must work together to create a safe working environment. You should take responsibility for your own actions in the workplace and the implications they can have for yourself and others. According to the Labour Force Survey, there were 555,000 injuries to employees in 2017/18. This figure demonstrates just how important it is for employees to look out for each other's safety.

As an employee, your responsibilities include:
  • Following all safety training that has been given to you and using all personal protective equipment provided.
  • Taking reasonable care of your own and other peoples' health and safety at work. You should be aware of, and try to reduce, any potential risks to health and safety at all times. This may include storing possessions safely, arranging for the clean up of spills and removing or reporting any hazards you come across as soon as possible.
  • Co-operating with your employer's health and safety arrangements at all times.
  • Telling your employer, supervisor or H&S representative if you think unsafe working conditions or processes are putting anyone at risk. Everyone should feel comfortable to report any concerns that they have regarding health and safety in the workplace.

Do you have a health and safety law poster displayed in your workplace?

By law, all employers must display Health and Safety Law information in a visible location. This can take the form of either a poster displayed in a prominent location that can be accessed by all staff (often multiple locations within one workplace will require a poster), or a Health and Safety Law leaflet which needs to be provided to all staff members.

In 2009, the HSE introduced an updated, simpler version of the Health & Safety Law Poster. In order to minimise the impact on organisations, the HSE provided a five year transition period meaning that employers had until 5th April 2014 to replace the poster or leaflets with the new version.

The Health and Safety Law poster can be purchased from Safety First Aid. 

In summary

Health and safety is everyone’s responsibility and it is crucial that both you and your employers are aware of the role that you play in this every day. You have the right to report to your employer anything that you think may be of risk to yourself or your colleagues and are entitled to escalate this to the HSE if needed. You have rights within the workplace that your employer must adhere to but also you have responsibilities to your employer and colleagues. It is extremely important that everyone is aware of their role in health and safety in the workplace in order to reduce the number of people that become injured or ill.