16th May, 2023
Do employees have health and safety responsibilities? In a word. Yes. Employees do have legal health and safety responsibilities. Not to the same extent or level as employers, but duties nonetheless. So how can employees make sure they meet these legal requirements? Let's take a look.
We recently wrote about the legal health and safety responsibilities of employers. And, of course, employers have health and safety duties to their workers. But what about employees? Do they have health and safety responsibilities too?
Yes! Employees do have legal health and safety responsibilities.
The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSW Act) is the first place we need to look for these employee responsibilities. The HSW Act is the main piece of health and safety law, in that it applies to all workplaces of all types and for all activities. It's under this act that other health and safety regulations can come into force.
So what does the Health and Safety at Work Act say about employee responsibilities?
Employees have responsibilities under the HSW Act. These are:
These are fairly straightforward requirements. And they should make sense. After all, we all have a general duty of care to ourselves and others - at work or not.
These duties can be found in a section specific to employees (section 7).
It shall be the duty of every employee while at work—
- to take reasonable care for the health and safety of himself and of other persons who may be affected by his acts or omissions at work; and
- as regards any duty or requirement imposed on his employer or any other person by or under any of the relevant statutory provisions, to co-operate with him so far as is necessary to enable that duty or requirement to be performed or complied with.
And the HSW Act isn't the only place you can find employee health and safety responsibilities.
Employees have further duties under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (MHSWR). And just like the HSW Act, employees get their very own section (Regulation 14). Employee responsibilities include:
(2) Every employee shall inform his employer or any other employee of that employer with specific responsibility for the health and safety of his fellow employees—
- of any work situation which a person with the first-mentioned employee’s training and instruction would reasonably consider represented a serious and immediate danger to health and safety; and
- of any matter which a person with the first-mentioned employee’s training and instruction would reasonably consider represented a shortcoming in the employer’s protection arrangements for health and safety
So how can employees make sure they meet these legal requirements? Well, mostly they might seem like common sense. But let's take a look at what each responsibility requires.
Providing a safe work environment and safe systems of work is a legal duty of your employer, but no work environment is going to be 100% risk-free. Unless you work in a padded cell or wrapped up in cotton wool of course.
Employees might not be supervised all of the time.
So, as an employee, you must take reasonable care of yourself. Don't act in an unsafe way. Don't take shortcuts. Don't mess around. Don't take risks or put yourself in danger.
Employers don't have the same responsibilities as their bosses when it comes to health and safety. But you still owe a duty of care to others around you. This doesn't just mean your workmate or the person sitting next to you. It means anyone who may be affected by your acts (or failure to act).
For example, if you don't put a barrier up, someone could fall into an excavation you just dug. Or if you leave the power on to exposed wires, someone might touch them and get a shock. Or if you're messing around with your work colleague, you, them, or someone else, could get hurt.
Taking reasonable care of others means acting safely so you don't put other people in danger.
Employers have health and safety responsibilities - more than those of their employees. Employers have to provide you with training, equipment, PPE, guards, safe access, and a safe working environment. They must assess risks and put controls in place.
As an employee, you should be given everything that you need to work safely - that's your legal right. But all of those things only work if employees use them. If they follow the safe working procedures, wear the PPE provided and follow the training.
You must follow the instructions given and use the safety measures provided.
No person shall intentionally or recklessly interfere with or misuse anything provided in the interests of health, safety or welfare in pursuance of any of the relevant statutory provisions.
No person (and that includes employees) shall recklessly interfere with or misuse work equipment. Or anything else for that matter that may increase the risks to health, safety or welfare.
A hard hat won't protect you if it has been dropped and damaged. Your eye protection can't help you if you don't wear it. And guards can't keep you safe if they are removed.
This requirement under the MHSWR further enforces the responsibility to cooperate with employers.
It specifically requires employees to use any machinery, equipment, dangerous substance, transport equipment, means of production or safety device following the training and instruction that they have been provided.
This could include acts that you think are helping.
For example, you might try a temporary fix to get broken equipment working again. Or override a fault. Or move a guard. Because there are work pressures and deadlines, and you just need to get this task done.
But unless you are trained and authorised, don't do it. It could put you, and others, in danger. And meeting that deadline isn't worth the risk of losing an arm, your life, or someone else's.
You must cooperate with your employer and follow the instructions and training that you have been given.
Employers have a legal duty to provide safe work environments and systems of work. Do they need to monitor and supervise? Yes. Are they expected to be everywhere at all times? No.
If an employee spots a dangerous situation at work, they have a legal responsibility to report it. Good health and safety will involve everyone working together - not just expecting someone else to do it. Employees are expected to work with their employer to help keep the workplace safe.
So, if you spot something dangerous at work, let your employer know. You might stop an accident before it happens.
Employees are not expected to be health and safety experts. They are not expected to be able to spot all health and safety failings. But they are expected to report anything that someone with their training and instruction would reasonably consider to be a shortcoming or failure in health and safety.
[...] any matter which a person with the first-mentioned employee’s training and instruction would reasonably consider represented a shortcoming in the employer’s protection arrangements for health and safety
In this article, we've covered the general health and safety duties of all employees. But you may have other responsibilities too, depending on the work you do.
The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations cover all workplaces and all employees. But there are other health and safety regulations that apply to specific work activities, and they might apply to your workplace and you.
For example, the COSHH regulations apply to hazardous substances. If you use hazardous substances, you will need to comply with COSHH. COSHH requires employees to 'make full and proper use of any control measure'. It's very similar to the requirement to cooperate with employers under the HSW Act, and even more, like the requirement under the MHSWR to use equipment by following the instruction and training provided.
Depending on the type of work you do, you will often be required to follow other regulations. The rules and regulations that apply to your work should be covered in the instruction and training provided by your employer.
The more training and instruction employees have, the more competent they should become. Therefore it is reasonably expected that the more employees learn, the more they can contribute to a safe workplace. Keep refreshed with regular safety toolbox talks for you and your team.
This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.
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