Health and safety in the workplace

Explain the duties relating to health and safety in the workplace Under the Employers Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969, every employer carrying on a business must maintain an approved policy with authorised insurers covering any bodily injury or disease of employees which might arise out of or in the course of their employment The principle Act governing Health & Safety in the workplace is The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 which provides for a safe place at work governing all Employers, Employees, Contract Workers, Visitors and Maintenance Contracts.

The Commission This body has a chairman and not less than six, nor more than nine, other members, all appointed by the Secretary of State. The duties of the Commission are to promote the health and safety legislation, to carry out research, to publish information, and to prepare proposals for regulations and codes of practice to be introduced under the Act The enforcing body is The Health & Safety Executive, Whose officers have wide ranging powers.

Officers may serve improvement or prohibitive notices which have far reaching consequences upon the offending organisation Breaching Health & Safety Law can be both a criminal and civil offence and upon summary conviction substantial fines may be payable and under certain circumstances Imprisonment The general statutory duties of the HSAW act The Act imposes general duties on a number of different persons or categories of person.

Duties are imposed on; employers, manufacturers, designers, suppliers, the self employed, controllers of premises and employees. Most of these duties are qualified in that the duty only extends to what is “reasonably practicable” The effect of the qualification is to allow the person on whom the duty is placed to weigh up the seriousness of a risk and the likelihood of injury against the difficulty and expense of removing it.

Where difficulty and cost are high and a careful assessment shows that the risk of injury is significant, then it may be that no action need be taken. However, if it is the case that the risk of injury or loss of life is high, then action must be taken whatever the cost and no allowance is made for the fact that it is a small organisation or that the business is struggling to survive It is for the person alleging that he has done” that which is reasonably practicable” to establish it.

This is unusual, as normally in criminal prosecutions the procurator fiscal has to prove his case beyond reasonable doubt General duties of employers Section 2(1) imposes a general duty on an employer to ensure as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees. Note; It can be seen that the above statutory duties are very similar to those owed by an employer to an employee under common law but they differ n that the duties under s2 are enforced only by criminal sanctions.

Section 2(3) States that every employer (unless he has five employees) shall prepare, revise if necessary, and bring to the notice of his employees a written statement of his general policy with respect to the health and safety of his employees and the arrangements in force for the time being for carrying out that policy Section 2(6) states that it shall be the duty of every employer to consult any safety representatives appointed by recognised trade unions Section 2(7) states that if requested by the safety representatives, the employer has a duty to establish a safety committee.

Section 9 forbids employers to levy any charge on employees in respect of anything done or provided in pursuance of any specified requirement under the statutory provisions General duties owed by employers and the self-employed to non-employees Section 3(1) states that every employer is under a duty to conduct his business in such a way so far as is reasonably practicable that non-employees are not exposed to risks to their health and safety (this will include the general public, sub-contractors, visitors and even students on the college campus.

Section 3(2) imposes a similar duty on self-employed persons in respect of them-selves and other non- employees In Regina v Swan Hunter Shipbuilders Ltd (1981) the employers distributed a booklet to their employees giving practical safety rules for the use of oxygen equipment, in particular warning of the dangers of oxygen in confined spaces. The booklet was not given to the employees of their sub-contractor, except on request. A bad fire broke out on a ship because an employee of the sub- contractor left on an oxygen hose, resulting in the death of eight workmen.

Swan Hunter were prosecuted and convicted of breach of ss 2(2)a,2(2)c and 3(1) In R v Associated Octel Ltd(1994) A fire started when a chemical leak ignited, engulfing the plant in flames. Although no-one was injured the fire was classified by the HSE as a “major incident” which endangered the safety of the employees, the neighbouring residents and the emergency services. The company admitted that they had failed to maintain plant and systems of work which were safe and without risk to health.

The company was found guilty of breaches of ss 2 and 3 of the HSAW Act and fined 75000 for each breach In R v British Steel Plc (1995) BS engaged sub-contractors to reposition a platform. The sub-contractors provided two men for the task and a BS engineer was to supervise the work. One of the men was fatally injured. BS had assigned an engineer to supervise but there was conflicting evidence as to whether he had done this properly. BS was found guilty of a breach of s 3(1) of the HSAW Act . They tried to argue that if the engineer was at fault then they should not be liable for his fault and that they had taken such care as is reasonably practicable.

The Court of Appeal dismissed this view and said corporate employers could not avoid criminal liability where the Potential harmful event is committed by a person who is not “directing the mind of the company”. General duties of controllers of premises Section 4 imposes a duty on people who have control over non-domestic premises which are used by non-employees who work there or who use plant and the substances provided there. The duty is to take such measures as far as is reasonably practicable that the premises or any plant or substances on the premises are safe and without risk to health.

Section 3 and 4 could be regarded as the criminal counterpart of the Occupiers Liability(Scotland) Act 1960 and s 4 would apply to premises like a car wash, a coin operated laundrette, a library or a school laboratory Section 5 imposed another duty on controllers of any premises of a class prescribed to use the best practicable means for preventing the emission into the atmosphere of noxious and offensive substances and for rendering them harmless. This section was repealed in April 1996, and is now covered by the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

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