Health and safety in the workplace is a prevalent issue for employers and is a constant theme in the media (see the recent – and probably justified – coverage of the “triangular flapjack whack rap claptrap”). We’ll therefore take a brief introductory look at an employer’s health and safety obligations in the workplace.
- What are an employer’s obligations regarding health and safety in the workplace?
- What are the potential consequences of failing to uphold health and safety standards?
- How can an employer avoid the potential for breaching health and safety in the workplace?
What are an employer’s obligations regarding health and safety in the workplace?
An employer has both statutory and common law obligations to maintain a certain standard of health and safety in the workplace.
There is a range of legislation that applies to health and safety in the workplace under the law of England and Wales. The principal legislation includes (among others):
- The Management of Health and Safety Regulations 1992
- The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974
- The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998
- The Personal Protection Equipment at Work Regulations 1992
Common law duties
An employer has a well-established common law duty to take reasonable steps to prevent harm being caused to its employees (also known as the “five-fold duty”). It must provide competent staff, a safe place of work, safe materials, a safe system of work and adequate supervision in order to maintain expected standards.
What are the potential consequences of failing to uphold health and safety standards?
Failure to uphold standards of health and safety in the workplace may result in either criminal prosecution or a claim for personal injury against an employer. Either (and – in particular – both) of these potentialities may lead to the payment of a substantial fine and/or damages for breaching health and safety.
A business can be subject to criminal prosecution for failing to uphold health and safety standards in the workplace under the legislation listed above. Further, if an employee is killed as a result of a failure to maintain health and safety standards, there may be a criminal prosecution against the business under the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act 2008 or against a director and/or manager under the common law offence of gross negligence manslaughter.
If an employee is injured in a workplace accident then the employer may be liable for a personal injury claim for the tort of common law negligence and/or for a breach of statutory duty.
How can an employer avoid the potential for breaching health and safety in the workplace?
In order to avoid potential civil and/or criminal liability, employers should take all reasonable steps to prevent risk to the health or safety of its employees in the workplace. Risk assessments should be carried out regularly, hazards identified, and all reasonably practicable steps taken to prevent harm being caused to employees by the identified hazards. Further, employers should ensure that competent staff are employed, a safe place of work and safe materials are used, and that a safe system of work and adequate supervision is in place. Failure to provide any of the above could lead to serious legal and financial consequences.