Last year marked the 40th anniversary of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, a key piece of legislation with a humble aim for employers of reducing the risk to employees and members of the public in the workplace. 2015 is also an important year in which we wish happy birthday to the Health and Safety Executive, who will be marking the 40th year since their creation. Whilst the Health and Safety Executive has seen a significant decrease in the number of accidents at work over the years, accidents still occur which could have been prevented. This is a good time to take stock of your health and safety procedures. This is particularly important as the Sentencing Guidelines Council is currently consulting on the latest draft of the Health and Safety Sentencing Guidelines and it is expected that sentences will increase.

The Law

Whilst there is a wealth of health and safety legislation, some of the main pieces are summarised below:-

Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 ("HSAWA"): s2 and s3

Place a duty on every employer to ensure, 'so far as is reasonably practicable', the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees, and 'to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons who are not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety.'

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

Generally detail the steps employers are required to take to manage their health and safety obligations under the HSAWA. These include: employers to carry out risk assessments, make arrangements to implement necessary measures, appoint competent people and arrange for appropriate information and training.

Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992

Covers a wide range of basic health, safety and welfare issues such as ventilation, heating, lighting, workstations, seating and welfare facilities.

Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992

Require employers to provide appropriate protective clothing and equipment for their employees.

Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998

Require that equipment provided for use at work, including machinery, is safe.

The Health and Safety Information for Employees Regulations 1989

Require employers to display a poster telling employees what they need to know about health and safety.

Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR)

Require employers to notify certain occupational injuries, diseases and dangerous events.

Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH)

Require employers to assess the risks and control substances which are hazardous to health.

The above is supplemented with Guidance and approved Codes of Practice.

Recent Cases

There have been several recent cases which highlight some continuing failings in compliance with health and safety legislation which are worthy of organisations' attention. These have been summarised below:

  1. A mental health patient was able to hang herself from a ligature point which had previously been identified by the organisation. In addition, those undertaking her observations were unaware of her risk of suicide and part of the patient's room could not be seen. In addition, there was no specific procedure or policy for checking and removing personal items (in this case boot laces) which may be used as a ligature. The organisation pleaded guilty to breaching s.3(1) of the HSAWA and were fined £50,000 in August 2014.
  2. A mental health patient was left paralysed after diving off a quad roof. The Trust was aware that the roof was regularly accessed by patients, and the patient himself had accessed it prior to this incident, yet no risk assessment was undertaken nor steps taken to reduce the risks. The Trust admitted breaching s.3(1) HSAWA and in October 2014, they were fined £20,000 and ordered to pay costs of £6,864.
  3. An 85 year old gentleman living at home was identified as being at risk of falls and was admitted to a care home. The patient fell in his room and became trapped between a wardrobe and radiator sustaining serious burns from which he later died. A prosecution was brought under s 3(1) of the HSAWA that the company had failed to assess the risks in his room and take appropriate action to control and manage them. This was a foreseeable and preventable fatal incident and the company had failed to heed HSE published guidance. The company was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay £35,000 in costs in January of this year.

What should you do?

There are several steps that should be taken to reduce the risks within your organisation and reduce the potential for a prosecution:-

  1. As an employer, you must appoint someone competent to help you meet your health and safety duties. A competent person is someone with the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to manage health and safety. Ensure you have an appropriate person in place and that they have the necessary training to ensure that the organisation complies with its duties.
  2. Ensure you have an appropriate health and safety policy in place which details how you will manage health and safety. This should detail who does what, when and how. It is important that staff and others are aware of this, know who to contact with any health and safety concerns and are alert to any potential risks.
  3. Have you undertaken an appropriate risk assessment? Risk assessments are key in identifying potential risks and then identifying reasonable steps to control those risks. You should record the findings and then start to implement the control measures. As an organisation, you should ensure there are robust management systems in place to ensure the risks are properly identified and that warning signs do not go unnoticed. Thereafter, it is essential to take steps, so far as is reasonably practicable, to reduce these risks. If the risks are great, such as working from height, there may be specific regulations to help manage these which should be adhered to.
  4. Keep up to date with HSE guidance. The HSE has a wealth of material and issues regular guidance and alerts. The Health and Safety Advisor, or competent person, should set up relevant alerts and review the HSE's website often to ensure the organisation is up to date. There needs to be a very good reason for a failure to adhere to guidance.
  5. Staff should be aware that any concerns should be reported with the Health and Safety Advisor/team.
  6. Ensure that appropriate policies are in place for managing the identified risks, such as in the above case for checking/removing belongings. Policies should be kept up to date and it is key that these are disseminated to staff and used in practice.
  7. Provide clear information and training to employees. Ensure they have the appropriate tools to do their job safely. Make sure that any long-standing employees have undertaken appropriate training and that there is an appropriate induction for all new starters.
  8. Provide regular supervision for employees to ensure systems of work are being adhered to and patients are being cared for safely.
  9. Keep good records and clear documentation. Be aware that any documentation may be liable to be disclosed at a later date and should always be written in a professional manner.

Remember, the legislation is there to help protect you, your employees and the public from dangers in the workplace.

How can we help?

Bevan Brittan can assist in all aspects of

  • Advice regarding an HSE investigation
  • Training
  • Review of policies

An update in relation to the proposed Sentencing Guidelines will follow in the next edition.

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