Health and Safety
Occupational health and safety refer to programs, guidelines and procedures that protect the safety, welfare and health of any person engaged in work or employment. The overall goal of any health and safety program is to create the ultimate safe working environment and to reduce the risk of accidents, injuries and fatalities on the job.
Occupational health and safety also protect the health of customers and the general public as well as anyone else that might be affected by the particular working environment. When health and safety procedures are followed correctly, they can help to prevent accidents and reduce the risk of employee injury and illness. They will also reduce costs such as sick leave, medical care and disability benefits.
Every organization, no matter what they do, has a responsibility to uphold health and safety standards within the workplace. These guidelines are clearly outlined if a company does not follow them, they can be liable for any damages or accidents that occur. Not only does the company have a legal and financial obligation to conform to health and safety standards, they also have a moral responsibility to care for the well-being of their employees.
What Does it Mean for Me?
So now you know the answer to “what is health and safety?” you might be wondering how it affects you. Read on to find out how health and safety affect employees and employers.
As an Employee
How do health and safety affect your day to day life on the job? If you are an employee, it is important that you have the appropriate health and safety training for the position that you are working in. If you are working with specific hazards, such as toxic materials, heights or enclosed spaces, you will need to have additional specialised health and safety courses for these specific risks.
As an employee, you should always follow the correct health and safety procedures as laid out by your employer. Don’t be tempted to cut corners to make your job easier, as you might end up putting yourself in very serious danger.
Of course, if your employer is asking you to do something that violates health and safety regulations, you do not have to do it. You have the right to refuse a task that puts you in potential danger without worrying about getting reprimanded or losing your job. If your employer disagrees, you can always enlist the help of your union or health and safety executive.
As an Employer
If you are an employer, it is your responsibility to ensure the safety of your workers. Make sure that they are properly trained in the appropriate courses and that they have been fully briefed on the regulations of their specific job.
Ensure the workplace is kept in a safe condition at all times and never ask your workers to do a task that violates health and safety regulations. Set a good example and foster a healthy and safe workplace.
What is health and safety? It is a very important part of the job and it is absolutely essential for a safe and well functioning workplace.
What is health and safety? How does it affect my day to day working life? Read on to find the answers to these questions and more.
What Is the Health and Safety At Work Act?
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASAWA) lays down wide-ranging duties on employers. Employers must protect the ‘health, safety and welfare’ at work of all their employees, as well as others on their premises, including temps, casual workers, the self-employed, clients, visitors and the general public. However, these duties are qualified with the words ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’. This means that employers can argue that the costs of a particular safety measure are not justified by the reduction in risk that the measure would produce. But it does not mean they can avoid their responsibilities simply by claiming that they cannot afford improvements.
HASAWA allows the government to issue regulations, guidance and Approved Codes of Practice (ACOPs) for employers. These set out detailed responsibilities for your employer in every aspect of workplace health and safety, from working safely with computers to stress and hazardous chemicals.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was set up under HASAWA.
The Act contains powers for the HSE to enforce these employer duties and penalties for non-compliance.
What is a Hazard?
When we refer to hazards in relation to occupational safety and health the most commonly used definition is ‘A Hazard is a potential source of harm or adverse health effect on a person or persons’.
The terms Hazard and Risk are often used interchangeably but this simple example explains the difference between the two.
If there was a spill of water in a room then that water would present a slipping hazard to persons passing through it. If access to that area was prevented by a physical barrier then the hazard would remain through the risk would be minimised.
What is Risk?
When we refer to risk in relation to occupational safety and health the most commonly used definition is ‘risk is the likelihood that a person may be harmed or suffers adverse health effects if exposed to a hazard.’
What is Occupational Safety and Health?
Occupational safety and health (OSH), also commonly referred to as occupational health and safety (OHS), occupational health, or workplace health and safety (WHS), is a multidisciplinary field concerned with the safety, health, and welfare of people at work. These terms also refer to the goals of this field, so their use in the sense of this article was originally an abbreviation of occupational safety and health program/department etc.
The goals of occupational safety and health programs include to foster a safe and healthy work environment. OSH may also protect co-workers, family members, employers, customers, and many others who might be affected by the workplace environment. In the United States, the term occupational health and safety is referred to as occupational health and occupational and non-occupational safety and includes safety for activities outside of work.
As defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) “occupational health deals with all aspects of health and safety in the workplace and has a strong focus on primary prevention of hazards.” Health has been defined as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Occupational health is a multidisciplinary field of healthcare concerned with enabling an individual to undertake their occupation, in the way that causes least harm to their health. Health has been defined as It contrasts, for example, with the promotion of health and safety at work, which is concerned with preventing harm from any incidental hazards, arising in the workplace.
Why Health and Safety is Important?
Hazards at Work
Whatever sort of business you are, there is always the possibility of an accident or damage to someone’s health. All work exposes people to hazards, be they: loads which have to be manually handled; dangerous machinery; toxic substances; electricity; working with display screen equipment or even psychological hazards such as stress.
The Cost of Safety Failure
The reason there are not even more accidents and diseases caused by work is because systems of prevention are in place which have been built up over generations. Safety does not come about by accident: most accidents happen because they have not been prevented. Yet despite all the precautions that are taken in the UK, there are still over 640, 0001 workplace injuries every year as well as 1.8 million2 cases of ill health caused or made more by work.
In 2011/12 27 million working days were lost due to work-related illness and workplace injury. 1
Even small businesses have accidents. Accident rates in small businesses can be higher than in large operations(for instance the fatality rate in SME manufacturers is twice that of large ones. 3
Attention to health and safety is not just about being socially responsible. It also makes good business sense and you should regard it as just as important as the achievement of any other key business objective.
Of course, working out what modern health and safety law means for your business can be quite a headache. But don’t be put off. Yes, on the face of it there do seem to be a lot of regulations and there is a lot of supporting guidance, but the underlying principles are really quite straightforward.
Essentially you have to ensure absence of risk to safety and health of employees and others ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’.
System in place to Manage Health & Safety
You have to have a system (e.g. have a policy, designate people and have clear procedures) in place to manage health and safety (and, if you employ more than five people, set this out in a written health and safety policy statement). You need to be able to show how you plan, organise, control, monitor and review preventative measures. And you need to appoint a competent person(s) to help you comply with your legal obligations.
You have to identify your main hazards (things that could cause harm).
You have to assess your risks (the probability that significant harm will occur) and again, if you employ more than five, record the results of your assessment.
Risk assessment is the key to working out what needs to be done – but don’t make it over-complicated. Remember, although you have to do it by law, it is really only any use if it can be used as a working tool – to help you prove to yourself and your employees that you have identified the main things in your business which could cause harm and that you are doing everything you should to prevent that harm from happening.
Risk Control Measures
You have to make sure that your risk control measures are adequate and that they are used and maintained and that they continue to work. (You also have to put in place any back up measures that may be needed like health surveillance or emergency procedures). And you have to inform, train and supervise employees.
For the most part the law sets out certain health and safety goals to be achieved and indicates appropriate ‘benchmarks’ to help you work out whether your controls are up to ‘reasonably practicable’ standards. There is an underlying requirement to reduce or eliminate hazards at source, or isolate people from them (for example, by guarding machinery) before using other forms of control. Relying on the use of personal protective equipment – like respirators or protective footwear – is a last resort and is only acceptable when all other options have failed.
You also have to:
- report and record accidents;
- provide certain basic workplace, first aid and welfare facilities;
- have employers’ liability insurance;
- notify the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Local Authority of your existence;
- consult your workforce and their representatives; and so on.
Risk Control Measures
For the most part, the law sets out certain health and safety goals to be achieved and indicates appropriate ‘benchmarks’ to help you work out whether your controls are up to ‘reasonably practicable’ standards. There is an underlying requirement to reduce or eliminate hazards at the source, or isolate people from them (for example, by guarding machinery) before using other forms of control. Relying on the use of personal protective equipment – like respirators or protective footwear – is a last resort and is only acceptable when all other options have failed.
Getting StartedIf all this is new to you, where do you start?
Well, first of all, you need to get a good overview of the subject. Start with some basic reading such as free HSE leaflets (http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/leaflets.htm) or download a free copy of HSE’s ‘Essentials of Health and Safety at Work’ (http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/priced/essentials.pdf). You can visit the HSE web site “Health and safety made simple The basics for your business” which is for employers and those who want some basic information on what they must do to make sure their businesses comply with health and safety law.
Contact RoSPA (Tel +44 (0)121 248 2233) and consider going on a basic training course. RoSPA can also help with its ‘Health and Safety Review’ services for smaller businesses which can provide a comprehensive diagnosis of strengths and weaknesses in your management of health and safety (more information on Sheet 9).
‘Where Are You Now?’
Armed with the knowledge you have gained, try to answer the following questions: “When it comes to health and safety, where are we now as a company?” and “Where do we want to be this time next year?”
- Start by looking at your firm’s health and safety policy statement. It should be the basis of your firm’s health and safety action plan.
- Ask yourself whether you have an effective health and safety management system in place – in other words, a planned way of tackling problems.
- Have you got clear policies and objectives for health and safety?
- Have you organised key people to achieve them?
- What training do they need?
- Have you appointed a competent person to help you comply with your duties?
- Have you identified your main hazards and assessed the risks involved?
- Have you selected the right control measures to tackle these main risks
- Are they adequate or do you need to do more?
- Are they actually being applied in practice?
- Are you monitoring progress – for example, by inspecting the workplace regularly or investigating accidents and ‘near misses’ – to learn from your mistakes?
- Have you set a date to review your health and safety performance against your plans?
Although if you are the person in overall control of your business, ‘the buck stops with you’, you cannot achieve a safe and healthy working environment on your own. It has to be a team effort and you need to consult your employees and, where appointed, their safety representatives. You need to get proper health and safety co-ordination going with other businesses with which you come into contact such as clients, customers, suppliers or contractors. You need to build ownership and commitment to safety throughout your workforce.
Don’t Delay – Get Started Today!
Above all, you need to remember that besides protecting people and the environment, action on health and safety can also make a major contribution to business success. Not only will it help stop accidents and work related ill health among your staff, but it will reduce your accident losses, improve your profit and loss statement and help you become more efficient. Don’t think accidents and occupational ill health can’t happen in your company. Above all don’t wait for things to go wrong and then go for the ‘quick fix’. Build health and safety in from the start. Don’t delay – make time and space to get started today!