What's so important about Health and Safety?

Since the Health and Safety at Work Act was first introduced in 1974, people have become more and more aware of the hazards that are apparent in different workplaces. Legislation after legislation has been published, and the gap has been reduced considerably in which unfair accidents have slipped through without justice, not to mention the large drop in the number of accidents that occur now in comparison with 1974. According to the BBC, in 1974 a total of 651 employees were killed at work; by 2010 this number had fallen to 120 deaths, an 82% decrease in risk.

Nowadays Health and Safety is a matter of the law, resulting in serious consequences if not abided by. Anyone suspected of disobeying the Health and Safety at Work Act can be taken to court and can face a fine – or even a prison sentence – if found guilty. Moreover, in 2008 the Health and Safety Offences Act was brought about, allowing the courts to give higher penalties to anyone flouting the laws of health and safety, even making imprisonment an option in the lower courts. This was introduced to discourage employers from neglecting their responsibilities of being in charge of their employees’ health and safety – as well as that of visitors and themselves – and further persuade businesses to comply with the law. By conforming to health and safety regulations and legislation, the number of accidents that arise should reduce to a minimal figure.

Employers are accountable for the health and safety of everyone who enters the workplace and therefore need to make sure that all employees understand and abide by a safety policy, as requested by the HSE (Health and Safety Executive). The HSE are responsible for enforcing health and safety and making sure that legislation and regulations required in the workplace is being followed. It is therefore important for the employers to meet these requirements, by law, or else risk being suspended by the HSE, or – as a worse case – be accused of negligence and face a civil law case against them.

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, it is now a legal requirement for employers to perform risk assessments for all significant hazards in the workplace to reduce the possibility of accidents and ill health occurring. Not only can accidents cause serious – even fatal – injuries to employees; they can also be very costly for the company, both physically and financially, in relation to any materials, machinery and equipment that may be damaged, as well as the possibility being understaffed as a result, or there being damage to the building in which they worked.

Risk assessments not only help to identify the hazards in a workplace, but also recognize who could be at risk and how trivial or significant the risk can be. A risk factor is can be calculated by a mark out of 5 for the likelihood of a person being injured and for the severity of the injury, and then multiplying the two values together. Generally, risk factors above 4 are considered to be significant risks. Employers can then start to comprehend ways – control measures – in which to minimise the risk of these hazards becoming actual accidents and incidents.

Other ways to identify hazards include inspections and using accident data from past incidents. Employers are expected to be proactive in identifying all aspects of health and safety hazards in the workplace. Although risk assessments are useful, employers also need to involve themselves in investigations to make sure that policies are obeyed. They would also need to assess the workplace, adding comments and suggestions for action where these are necessary.

Through the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR), all accidents should be recorded in an accident book. By storing data of near misses and accidents – plus employees’ injury and illness records – can be used by the employer to identify the risks in the workplace, and prevent them from happening in the future. Employers are also expected to be involved in investigations to make sure that policies are obeyed and assess the workplace, adding comments and suggestions for action to be taken where necessary.

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