Responsibilities of the employer

September 26, 2014

SAFETY FIRST sign with clipping pathIn this article we will explore the responsibilities of the employer in greater detail. We will examine the different steps the employer can take in the development and implementation of good health and safety culture within the workplace, preventing incidents at work, and ultimately, to prevent the burden of costs associated with an incident on the business, person and society.

The legal requirement

The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 expects the employer to meet certain requirements to ensure a safe working environment. A breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 may carry an improvement notice, prohibition notice, fine or prison sentence.

The Responsibilities of the employer to employees

The Act requires the following general duty of employers to their employees be carried out.

Section 2

(1)   It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.

The employer can provide a safe working environment through a number of different management strategies, including ensuring that the work place is safe and without risk to health. Protection of the workforce from harm is the main objective.

  • The business must ensure that safe systems of work are used and plant and equipment are maintained. The employer must ensure that all work activities with significant hazards are risk assessed, and controls put in place to eliminate, reduce and minimise the risk of the working environment to persons under the control and management of the business. This includes employees, agency, contractors and visitors.
  • Plant and equipment must be maintained and be safe to use, and employees trained on how to use the equipment.
  • The employer must ensure arrangements are in place for the safe use, handling, storage and transport of articles and substances. There are many inherent risks associates with materials and substances used within business.
  • The employer must ensure a workforce is competent by proving information, instruction, training and supervision. The type and level of training is different for each individual depending on the role being done.
  • The employer must ensure the maintenance of any place of work under the employer’s control, in a condition that is safe and without risks to health. The employer must liaise with the landlord of the building and ensure that the lease contract has recorded details of responsibilities of building upkeep.
  • The employer must ensure the maintenance of the safe access and egress at a place of work. Fire risk assessment must be carried out and emergency procedures in place to deal with the management of any emergency.
  • The employer must ensure the provision and maintenance of welfare facilities such as toilets, drinking water, a place of rest for pregnant women and a place to eat.
  • The employer must demonstrate that the business will adhere to health and safety. The employer must prepare a written statement of general policy and communicate it to employees. Consultation with employees is important to get a better understanding of their needs.

Developing and implementing a good health and safety culture

In the IOSH report Promoting a Positive Culture the word safety culture has been defined as consisting of shared values (what is important) and beliefs (how things work) that interact with an organisation’s structure and control systems to produce behavioural standards (‘the way we do things round here’). ‘The way we do things around here’ can determine whether the culture within a business is good or has areas for improvement.

Health and safety leadership

A leadership that understands the value of a positive health and safety management structure to the whole the business will work towards creating an environment where health and safety is taken seriously and is not just a tick box exercise.

Developing a positive culture starts at the top management level and works through the business gathering pace and momentum as its profile is increased across the different departments. Minutes from board meetings showing different issues in health and safety being discussed keeps the floodlight on the importance of health and safety in that business. Senior management leaders who bring the health and safety message to all their teams and throughout all meetings, when appropriate, are highlighting the importance of creating an environment of positive behaviours.

Behaviour management

Behaviours are copied, and when senior management show by example (wearing personal protective equipment (PPE)) when working in different areas then the entire workforce will wear PPE more readily. Leading by example is an excellent way to spread the message that the business is serious about the importance of health and safety, and will not tolerate any disregard by staff for health and safety procedures.

Employees and others need to know what is required of them. Providing the right information, instruction, training and supervision will give them the right tools to do the job safely and follow procedures.

Communication and consultation

Involvement of the workforce is key to ensuring that the positive culture is maintained and continues to improve with any changes (new staff, redundancies, new work process etc). Communication and consultation with the workforce can rapidly increase good behaviours and impact on health and safety outcomes such as incident rates. Everyone will feel responsible for ensuring protection of themselves and others from harm if they are empowered by subtle changes made through consultation. An example of this is team meetings where health and safety is discussed as one of the items on the agenda. Employees may feel able to discuss different ways of doing work that may prove safe than the historical way things are carried out. They may feel they can challenge historical norms of methods of working and examine creative new techniques or processes of doing the same job. With open discussion, ideas and shared opinions can sometimes provide safer ways of doing a job. It may be a simple change, such as using a retractable blade rather than the historical stanley knife when cutting. It is safe and will minimise the risk of a person cutting their hand.

QCS provides full management systems to help your business create the framework for solid health and safety management. The starting point is creating a solid management ethos of ensuring everyone understands that effective management of health and safety is not only the protection of people from harm, but also good business sense.


Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974

Promoting a Positive Culture – IOSH

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Sally Beck

QCS Expert Health and Safety Contributor


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