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Your Rights Regarding Health and Safety

By: Chris Hogan MSc - Updated: 17 Jul 2014 | comments*Discuss
Workers' Rights Health And Safety Duty

Health and safety in the workplace is an area that has some of the strongest rules that embody workers' rights in law, although this is matched by employees' responsibilities to themselves and colleagues. In as much as companies have a responsibility to provide a safe working environment for workers and members of the public, workers themselves need to maintain a safe working environment, too. And with the seemingly unstoppable march toward a US-style compensation culture in the UK, keeping to the rules has become more important than ever.

Employers Obligations

Companies are responsible for the provision of training to ensure safe working practices, securing hazardous materials and supplies, and informing the workforce about the hazards that they may encounter. Of course, some work has dangers to health but all firms must take steps to minimise those and inform workers about the ones that remain.

For example, if a job involves handling a drill, the hazard cannot be completely removed without making the task impossible. So the employer must make sure that safety guards and warning signs are in place, train employees on the correct working procedures, provide safety clothing, and keep drills properly maintained.

Firms must also record any incidents that occur in the workplace for potential examination by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), and there are some types of incident that must be reported immediately to the HSE or local authority. There is also a raft of regulations concerning the working environment, such as the provision of lighting, fire escapes, heat and ventilation, and observation of rest periods. It’s the employer's responsibility to monitor the premises with regard to these aspects, keep up with changes in the regulations, and make any necessary improvements.

Employees' Rights

Companies should carry out regular risk assessments to ensure that health and safety regulations are in place and being complied with. If there is evidence that this is not happening, then workers can raise the issue with the trained health and safety representative that all companies must appoint. Employees who have reasonable concerns about their safety are entitled to stop working and leave the work area without fear of being disciplined, and have the right to inform bosses of any breach of health and safety rules, with an expectation that it will be put right as soon as is practically possible.

Employees' Obligations

Employees have responsibilities as well as rights. They must comply with the regulations and use equipment that has been provided to keep them safe, in the way that they have been trained. This might be as simple as keeping hair and jewellery away from machinery, or it might be as complex as handling nuclear waste in such a way that it doesn't jeopardise members of the public.

Workers must also tell their bosses about anything that might prevent them from performing their duties in a safe manner, perhaps an injury, or medication they are taking that has after-effects, for example. It is completely forbidden to tamper with any device or warning information that has been put in place to ensure the safety of a worker, guest, supplier or any other person.

Find Out More

Health and safety rules and regulations are a massive area and the surface can only be skimmed in this article. The government's directgov website has guides to it, as does the HSE's site at hse.gov.uk, who will also hear any complaint if an employer doesn't appear to be taking a health and safety issue seriously.

It's important to remember that health and safety regulations are heavily protected by law. There's little else that can get an employee summarily dismissed, apart from criminal action, although many campaigners would argue that the HSE and the courts rarely punish employers for health and safety breaches as quickly and decisively as employees are dealt with, nor with an equivalent level of serious punishment.

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I work for a large American company in a small office in Glasgow,i work on a six week rota, the first three is 7 days on two days off 6 days on two days off then 7 days on,with no extra pay, The air conditioning is faulty and the office is a Health Hazzard, 15 to 20 of us work on a 24 hour shift pattern daily, and its effecting my and others overall well being,Can you please give me some advice on my rights.
jimmy - 17-Jul-14 @ 2:23 AM
I have been told by my employer that they are moving me into a claustrophic room with a tiny opening which stinks of packaged tobacco. I work in retail however on the office side with 3 other members of staff in a pleasant room attached to the store which is airy and light. I've now been told that due to staff shortages I will have to do all my job as well as serving customers tobacco and manning the switchboard. This room is dark and oppressive and I suffer from claustrophobia and have a medical problem which means I have to go to the loo frequently, meaning I would have to lock up everytime I go to the loo. I've told my employer this but they have basically said I don't have to go in there, it's my job that is moving and if I cannot do it they will find me something else (ie, checkouts or shop floor). I have 25 years service and carried on after retirement (I am 67). I feel they are trying to get me out and I have a relative in HR who says I have a case for constructive dismissal and age discrimination. I love my job and do it well and don't want to leave however I feel I am being bullied into a corner. I do not want to learn another job at my age, I am trying to be flexible and have said I don't mind sharing the tobacco selling and switchboard duties with others (ie a rota basis) but no one else in the office has been asked to do it, only me, which seems discriminatory. I am so upset by this, any advice would be appreciated.
Luxy - 6-Aug-12 @ 10:47 AM
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