The Legal Health And Safety Responsibilities Of Employees header image

25th February, 2019

The Legal Health And Safety Responsibilities Of Employees

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 workers? Do they have health and safety responsibilities too?

In a word. Yes. Employees do have legal health and safety responsibilities. Not to the same extent or level of employers, but legal duties none-the-less.

Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSW Act) is the first place we need to look in. The act is the main piece of health and safety law, in that it applies to all workplaces of all types, all activities, and allows other health and safety regulations to come into force.

Duties of employees

Employees have responsibilities under the HSW Act. These are:

  • To take reasonable care of themselves
  • To take reasonable care of others
  • To cooperate with employers
  • Not to misuse or mistreat work equipment

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.

It shall be the duty of every employee while at work—

  1. 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
  2. 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.

Employees have further duties under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (MHSWR). These are:

  • To use any machinery, equipment, dangerous substance, transport equipment, means of production or safety device in accordance with the training and instruction provided
  • Inform employers of any dangerous work situation
  • Inform employers of any matters representing a shortcoming in arrangements for health and safety

(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—

  1. 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
  2. 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? Let's take a look.

Employees must take reasonable care of themselves

Employees might not be supervised all of the time. 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 in cotton wool of course.

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 about. Basically, don't take risks or put yourself in danger.

Employees must take reasonable care of others

Employers don't have the same responsibilities as their boss 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 work mate 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 and someone falls into an excavation you just dug. Or if you leave the power on to exposed wires and someone touches them. Or if you horse around with your work colleague and someone gets hurt.

Employees must cooperate with employers

Employers have health and safety responsibilities. More than employees. They have to provide you with training. Provide equipment. PPE. Guards. Safe access. Safe working environment. Assess risks and put controls in place.

As an employee, you should be given everything that you need to work safely. It is your duty to follow the instructions given and use the safety measures provided.

Employees must not misuse or mistreat work equipment

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.

Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 Section 8

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.

This could include acts that you think are helping. For example temporary fixes to get broken equipment working again. Overriding faults. Moving guards. Unless you are trained and authorised, don't do it. It could put you, and others, in danger.

Employees must use equipment in accordance with instruction and training

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 in accordance with the training and instruction that they have been provided. Which really is another way of saying, cooperate with employers. You must follow the instructions and training that you have been given.

Employee in hi-viz
Employees must use the equipment provided correctly (including PPE)

Employees must inform employers of any dangerous work situation

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.

Employees must inform employers of any shortcomings

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.

Additional Legal Responsibilities

We have now covered the general health and safety duties of all employees. You may have other responsibilities. There are lots of other health and safety regulations, that apply to specific work activities.

For example, the COSHH regulations apply to hazardous substances. They require employees to 'make full and proper use of any control measure'. Very similar to the requirement to cooperate with employers under the HSW Act. Even more, like the requirement under the MHSWR to use equipment in accordance with instruction and training.

Depending on the type of work you do, you will often be required to follow other regulations. This 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, they more they can contribute to a safe workplace. Keep refreshed with regular safety toolbox talks for you and your team.

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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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