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Who is Responsible for Health and Safety in the Workplace?

Workplace health and safety are among the most critical parts of any organisation because they permeate every aspect of any business, no matter the industry. Having the right approach to workplace safety measures contributes to safer and more productive work environments as they reduce the overall number of incidents that occur, which allows work to continue unimpeded.

February 2024

That’s why organisations must get crystal clear about the legal and moral obligations of both employers and employees. To give you a good starting point, we’ve outlined the health and safety responsibilities of both parties alongside some guidance around the law with some appropriate training courses, as well as how to monitor and enforce standards in your workplace. 

Employer Health and Safety Responsibilities

Employers themselves have legal, moral and financial responsibilities where health and safety are concerned. As a part of their workplace health and safety policy, employers must provide a safe working environment that meets the needs of their employees. 

Primary employer health and safety responsibilities also include:

  • Conducting a risk assessment in the workplace and implementing safety policies and procedures. 
  • Providing the necessary training for staff to contribute to creating the right culture of health and safety and a safe environment for the future. 

Commitment to continuous improvement of safety standards is imperative where employers are concerned, as complacency or carelessness can cause irreparable damage to all aspects. 

Particularly in a financial sense, companies could see the following repercussions:

  • Heavy unlimited fines imposed by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
  • Decreased patronage from customers and businesses via reputational damage in the industry.
  • Millions of working days are lost due to work-related illness and injury, resulting in decreased productivity, and reducing the bottom line through delays.

Employee Health and Safety Responsibilities

Firstly, one of the most common questions asked when discussing employee health and safety responsibilities is, “Who is responsible for reporting hazards in the workplace?” Answered simply, it’s everyone’s responsibility to report hazards if they see them in the workplace, including employees. The job title is irrelevant; if an employee or employer were to see a hazard without reporting it, they are culpable in anything that happens.

Health and safety responsibilities for employees also include:

  • Maintaining a safe workplace wherever possible.
  • A legal duty to take care of their own health and safety and that of others affected by their actions. 
  • Health and safety guidelines for employees are implemented by employers – and thus, employees must make full use of control measures put into place by their employers. Employees must also participate in the safety training set out by their employer and make full use of the opportunity. 

Aside from following safety guidelines, reporting hazards and participating in employee safety training - employees are the most crucial factor contributing to a workplace culture of safety. A rising tide lifts all boats, and everyone in the workplace can only feel the full benefit of the right culture surrounding health and safety if everyone is on board. This starts with the individual.

Health and Safety Laws in The Workplace

For some understanding of the legal framework governing health and safety laws in the workplace, it’s a good starting point to follow the guidance set out by a regulator such as the HSE. Starting here will give you a basic understanding of what law regulates health and safety in the workplace.

Criminal and civil law are both applicable to workplace health and safety. Employers must adhere to health and safety regulations and, in doing so, protect employees and others from getting hurt or ill through their work. 

As far as consequences go, if this duty is neglected, a regulator such as HSE or local authority may take action against employers under criminal law. The person affected is also within their right to make a claim for compensation against the employer under civil law. 

Health and safety criminal law in Great Britain encompasses:

  • Acts of Parliament.
  • Statutory Instruments (Regulations).

The primary legislation to adhere to is the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSWA). It is essential to be mindful that if an individual is not harmed, it does not mean an offence hasn’t occurred. 

If employers do not comply with any of the standards specified by the law, they could open themselves up to:

  • Written or Verbal warnings.
  • Enforcement Policy Statements.
  • Criminal or Civil Prosecution.

Make sure you read into laws specific to your field in addition to this - there are variations and nuances in industries such as asbestos or construction.

Training and Education

Health and safety courses are the shields we use to defend our workforce from any potential dangers in the workplace. The importance of investing in quality workplace safety training that makes a tangible difference cannot be understated. Training equips both employers and employees to contribute with the necessary skills and knowledge to feel confident in their safety and their co-worker’s competency. 

We would recommend that employers seek to complete both the NEBOSH HSE Certificate in Health and Safety Leadership Excellence as well as IOSH Managing Safely Course. These courses provide in-depth knowledge of establishing the right health and safety culture as well as actionable steps for managing safety in your workplace. The IOSH Working Safely is a good starting point for employees looking to understand their role in keeping the workplace safe and how to identify or control common workplace hazards.

Monitoring and Enforcement

Returning to HSE, we can touch on workplace safety monitoring and enforcement. Monitoring health and safety is a constant process that requires attention and diligence. It’s not enough to manage risks; you must consistently reassess them. Persistence and dedication to the process will allow organisations to quickly take action when required. If you stay prepared, you don’t have to get prepared.

HSE advise that you adopt a monitor and enforce approach through the Plan, Do, Check, Act system which involves:

  • Planning what you need to do.
  • Doing the right things to implement your plan.
  • Checking your control measures.
  • Acting if your measures are not working.

Regulatory agencies such as HSE provide guidance, operate permissions in major hazard industries, carry out targeted inspections, take enforcement action to prevent harm and hold those who break the law to account. Inspections and audits make up an important part of their role. 

Employers must give unrestricted access to external and internal expert auditors to keep their cost-effectiveness, independence, and objectivity under review.

The consequences where poor health and safety practices are concerned are dire. Financial, reputation, and moral consequences await any organisation that commits safety violations. Corrective actions are also a necessity when hazards are identified, as organisations could fall into the trap of repeatedly making the same mistakes.

In summary, everyone is responsible for creating and maintaining workplace health and safety responsibilities to some degree. It’s a constant pursuit and team effort. Collaboration between employers and employees in decision and action is the foundation upon which this is built. At Astutis, people are at the centre of everything we do, and we implore you to prioritise safety in your organisation. Fundamentally, this will help create the most secure and productive environment for the business and its people. If you're looking to take charge of your responsibilities for health and safety in your own workplace, take a look at our recommended courses below.

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