In this article
Health and safety is a discipline that deals with the prevention of accidents in workplaces and public environments that could otherwise lead to injury, ill health or death.
The discipline has evolved over the years to meet the developments within industries and people’s expectations:
- The service and knowledge industry has evolved and requires protection.
- Health and safety is not only about physical injury or illness anymore. Organisations must ensure psychological health and safety as well.
- Managing environmental risks has now become a business priority.
- With better education workers have raised their expectations and standards of health, safety and wellbeing.
According to the primary health and safety legislation in the UK, the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HASAWA), employers are mainly responsible for managing health and safety:
- Every employer has to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees.
- Every employer and self-employed person has a duty to conduct their undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the people not in their employment who may be affected, are not exposed to risks to their health and safety. Self-employed persons are also required to protect themselves from risks to their own health and safety.
- Any person who has, to any extent, control of work premises, the means of access and egress, any plant or substances in such premises, has a duty to undertake reasonable measures to ensure that all are safe and without risk to health of non-employees who use non-domestic premises as a place of work or as a place where they may use plant or substances provided for their use.
- Any person who designs, manufactures, imports or supplies any article or substance for use at work has duties to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, that:
– The article or substance is safe and without risk to health when properly used;
– Any necessary research and testing examination of the article or substance is properly undertaken; and
– Adequate information is provided to ensure it is safe to use.
According to the health and safety legislation, employees have legal duties as well. Every employee must:
- Take reasonable care for the health and safety of themselves and of other people who may be affected by their acts or omissions at work.
- Cooperate with their employer, so far as it is necessary, to enable them to comply with their own duties.
Lastly, every person, as member of an organisation or simply as member of the public (including children), shall not, intentionally or recklessly, interfere with or misuse anything provided in the interest of health, safety or welfare whether for the protection of employees or other persons.
What could happen if health and safety is not managed correctly?
If health and safety is not managed correctly people could potentially suffer mental or physical illness, be seriously injured or even lose their life. This can have serious effects on individuals and their families, as well as employers, business owners, governments and society in general.
According to the Health and Safety Executive, Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety, each year, over a million workers are injured or made ill by their work in Great Britain.
It is morally unacceptable for people to be put at risk of serious harm in their own work activities or as members of the public by someone’s unsafe or harmful behaviour.
If health and safety is not managed correctly, individuals can suffer:
- Loss in the quality of their life or loss of life in the case of death.
- Loss of income with an increase of expenses for the individual and their family in order to meet care needs.
Health and safety accidents have financial implications for organisations as well. Insurance policies do not cover everything and may only pay for serious injuries or damage. All other costs have to be sustained by the organisation.
These costs include:
- The cost of dealing with the incident.
- The cost of investigation.
- Business costs (e.g. salaries and lost work time).
- The cost of actions needed to safeguard future business.
- Sanctions and penalties (e.g. increased insurance premiums, legal costs, compensation claims and fines).
- The cost of getting back to business.
If health and safety is not managed correctly there are also legal consequences:
- Civil liabilities under the tort of negligence (e.g. the employee injured at work may make a personal injury claim in the civil court) or, if permitted by statute, the tort of breach of the statutory duty.
- Criminal law applies in the case of failure to comply with a duty under the health and safety legislation (e.g. Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002).
All these consequences can have a tremendous impact on an organisation’s reputation.
What is a health and safety manager?
According to Regulation 7 from the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (commonly known as the “Management Regs”), employers are required to appoint a competent person, or persons, to assist in undertaking the measures necessary to comply with the requirement of the legislation.
The number of people appointed and the resources available (time and other means) must be adequate for the size and hazard profile of the organisation.
To be considered “competent”, those individuals should have sufficient training and experience or knowledge and other qualities to enable them to properly undertake the role.
Depending on the size and capacity of the organisation, employers could hire:
- Health and safety consultants (freelancer, non-employed).
- Health and safety advisors.
- Health and safety managers.
A health and safety manager is a line manager, hired by a company to ensure the organisation’s operation is run in line with the health and safety law through the implementation, maintenance and continuous improvement of a health and safety management system.
What is the purpose of a health and safety manager?
The purpose of a health and safety manager is to support the employer in preventing and reducing injuries and ill health cases within the organisation.
This is achieved through legal compliance as a minimum requirement. Going beyond compliance is now becoming the norm to protect and promote health, safety and wellbeing.
The health and safety responsibilities are still on the employer, but the health and safety manager can be held accountable for their actions or negligence in respect of their job role.
What are a health and safety manager’s responsibilities?
A health and safety manager is responsible for preventing accidents in workplaces and/or public environments which could lead to injury, ill health or death of workers or members of the public affected by the organisation’s work.
- Legal compliance. A health and safety manager ensures the application of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and other legislation and standards relevant to the company business. For example, the Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds (known as the “green guide”) for design, planning and safety management and operations of sports grounds would be relevant for a football stadium.
- Keeping up to date with changes in the legislation and standards through continual professional development.
- Conducting risk assessments and reviewing them regularly.
- Developing safe systems of work based on the findings of risk assessments.
- Staff training and awareness. A health and safety manager ensures staff are appropriately trained on safe systems of work and receive all the relevant health and safety information including duties imposed by the health and safety laws.
- Inspections and reporting.
- Recording and investigating all accidents and near misses.
- Reporting any serious workplace accident, occupational disease and specified dangerous occurrence under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (“RIDDOR”).
- Liaising with enforcement bodies if required.
- Arranging health surveillance if needed.
- Promoting a health and safety culture by leading by example and challenging any unsafe behaviour brought to their attention.
- Proposing opportunities for improvement within the health and safety management systems to the board of directors and supporting decision-making with ethical, legal and financial arguments.
What is the difference between a health and safety manager and a health and safety advisor?
Both health and safety managers and health and safety advisors are experts in health and safety. The difference is found in their accountability.
An advisor simply provides guidance to line management on what should be done to comply with the health and safety legislation. Whereas a health and safety manager is part of the team as a line manager and is responsible for the implementation, maintenance and continuous improvement of a health and safety management system.
Workplace health and safety manager responsibilities
A workplace health and safety manager (or occupational health and safety manager) is a health and safety manager whose focus is protecting the workforce from getting hurt at work or ill through work.
A workplace health and safety manager supports the employer in meeting their legal duties towards the employees, which include:
- The provision and maintenance of plant and systems of work that are safe and without risks to health.
- Arrangement for ensuring health and safety with the use, handling, storage and transport of articles and substances.
- The provision of information, instruction, training and supervision to ensure the health and safety at work of employees.
- Maintenance of any workplace, under their control, in a healthy and safe condition, including any means of access and egress.
- The provision and maintenance of a safe and healthy work environment with adequate facilities and arrangements for the welfare of employees at work.
An occupational health and safety manager carries out his duties through the implementation, maintenance and continuous improvement of a health and safety management system, as described above for the wider health and safety manager role.
Construction health and safety manager responsibilities
Construction sites are hazardous and complex environments that require a different level of expertise to manage health and safety risks.
According to the Health and Safety Executive the most frequent causes of accidental death and injury within the construction environment are:
- Death or injury caused by moving/overturning vehicles and plant.
- Falling material and collapses.
- Electrical accidents.
Ill health within the construction industry usually results from:
- Asbestos exposure.
- Manual handling.
- Noise and vibrations.
A construction health and safety manager is a health and safety manager specialised in construction whose duties also include:
- Ensuring compliance with the Construction Design and Management Regulations from 2015 (CDM) which aim to integrate health and safety into the management of a construction project to encourage everyone involved to work together (clients, designers, contractors and workers).
- Recognising, assessing and controlling a range of common construction hazards and developing safe systems of work.
- Advising on the roles, competencies and duties under construction legislation and managing contractors.
- Confidently challenging unsafe behaviours and offering practical solutions.
Environmental health and safety manager responsibilities
Environmental health and safety managers are health and safety managers that are also responsible for protecting people from environmental hazards and for protecting the environment from human hazards.
The environmental health and safety manager’s duties also include:
- Understanding the links between the organisation’s activities and wider environmental issues.
- Identifying which workplace activities may be subject to environmental legislation or enforcement.
- Implementing and maintaining an environmental management system and contributing to continual improvement.
- Supporting decision-making with ethical, legal and financial arguments.
- Planning for emergencies.
Fire safety manager
Fire safety managers are safety managers whose focus is to control the fire risk within the building of the organisation they work for.
A certified fire safety manager will have received specific training on fire, explosion and prevention principles and they are able to manage the risk of fire through a fire risk assessment and a fire emergency action plan.
A fire risk assessment must include:
- The fire hazards within the building.
- Control measures and precautions.
- An emergency action plan in the event of a fire.
A fire risk assessment is a complex document that needs to include all aspects of fire safety management (e.g. evacuation procedures, signage, control measures). For this reason, the “responsible person” (building owner or occupier) usually hires a fire safety manager or specialist with the relevant expertise.
A risk assessment is usually developed on the basis of a fire strategy, which is a key document that provides building owners, occupiers and managers with the relevant information to develop and achieve effective fire prevention and protection solutions and ensures the fire risk assessment can be considered suitable and sufficient.
A fire strategy is usually created by a fire engineer, and is used by the fire safety manager to conduct the fire risk assessment.
Having a fire safety manager on site positively influences fire safety behaviours within the organisation, improving the fire safety culture and preventing the damaging and sometimes catastrophic losses that could result from fire.
Food safety manager
A food safety manager ensures that the food produced and served (or sold) is:
- Safe to be consumed.
- Appropriately labelled.
- Handled properly along the food chain.
Food hygiene and safety procedures in a food business are managed through a management system called Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), establishing safe food temperatures, safe food handling, safe storage etcetera.
You can learn more about Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points in our knowledge base.
The main types of food safety hazards within food businesses are:
- Microbiological – Involving harmful bacteria like salmonella or E. coli.
- Chemical – Like acrylamide which may result from food being cooked for too long.
- Physical – Involving objects getting into food.
- Allergen contamination – Involving a small amount of a food allergen getting into another food accidentally.
Food safety management can save lives. Just recently, in October 2021, Natasha’s Law came into effect requiring businesses to label all food that is prepacked for direct sale with a full list of ingredients, with the fourteen major allergens emphasised in the list (usually using bold characters).
These changes have been introduced following the death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who suffered a fatal allergic reaction from a pre-packed sandwich at a time when ingredients labelling was not a requirement by the law.
Local authorities are responsible for enforcing food law and their officers can inspect businesses at any point in the food production and distribution process. For this reason, many businesses employ food safety managers to ensure that they are complying with the law and operating at a high standard.
Health and safety manager in oil and gas
The oil and gas industry (inshore and offshore) is extremely hazardous and requires a high level of expertise to manage the inherent health and safety risks that are mainly related to:
- Logistic and transport operations.
- Individuals being struck by, caught in and caught in between.
- Explosions and fires.
- Working in confined spaces.
- Chemicals exposure.
- Managing contractors.
Health and safety managers within the oil and gas industry are specialised in:
- Hazards inherent in the extraction, storage and processing of raw materials and products.
- Hydrocarbon process safety.
- Fire and explosion controls specific for the oil and gas industry.
- Marine and land logistics.
The Piper Alpha disaster is a great example of what can happen when health and safety is not managed correctly. The Piper Alpha disaster refers to an explosion and resulting oil and gas fires destroying the Piper Alpha oil platform in 1988 and killing 167 men. The total insured loss was about £1.7 billion. The accident is the worst offshore oil disaster in terms of lives lost and industry impact, with the main root cause found on an inappropriate permit to work system.
Health, safety and wellbeing manager
A health, safety and wellbeing manager is a crucial and relatively new role that was created to meet new needs and expectations:
- According to the Health and Safety Executive’s latest statistics, stress, depression and anxiety account for 51% of all work-related ill health cases.
- With better education, workers have raised their expectations and standards of work-life balance and wellbeing in the workplace.
Employers have a legal duty to protect employees from risks, including psychological ones, such as work-related stress, and they also have a moral duty to protect, and possibly enhance, employees’ wellbeing through work.
This is not only the right thing to do, but it makes financial sense for the organisation as it reduces absenteeism whilst boosting employees’ productivity and commitment.
In order to meet these needs the health and safety profession has evolved to a more comprehensive role by including mental health and wellbeing in the agenda. This is becoming the standard for any health and safety manager, but it is common to see this evolution on “upgraded” job titles as a statement of commitment.
Health, safety and wellbeing managers’ duties include:
- Management of sickness absence and implementation of a return to work programme.
- Management of people with a physical or mental condition and ensuring employees’ fitness for work.
- Assessment of psychosocial risks.
- Protection of people against discrimination, harassment or victimisation in employment in line with the Equality Act.
- Management of substance misuse in the workplace.
- Management of attendance.
Health, safety and wellbeing managers often work together with other experts such as an organisation psychologist in order to fulfil their duties.
A new standard, ISO 45003:2021, was published in June 2021 by the International Organization for Standardization producing guidance on how to integrate the management of psychosocial risks into the occupational health and safety management system.
It is a voluntary standard, however, its implementation is going to help organisations to comply with the legal requirements and to prevent work-related psychosocial injuries and ill health cases and promote wellbeing at work.
How to become a health and safety manager?
There are multiple routes to become a health and safety manager.
Some people start their journey after school or college and study for a health and safety qualification (e.g. bachelor’s degree or apprenticeship). Others may start their career in health and safety “accidentally” at work as part of a wider role. Small businesses do not always have the budget to hire a health and safety expert and therefore, often, line managers have to fulfil health and safety duties to support the employer in ensuring compliance.
The employer usually enrols them in specific health and safety training and, with some experience, they may find themselves very passionate about this area and decide to pursue a career in health and safety.
A level three qualification is the first step to become a health and safety professional, potentially followed by a qualification in a specific branch of safety such as Safety in Construction or Fire Safety.
Qualifications on their own are usually not enough to prepare someone for a health and safety manager role and a few years of experience in entry level roles (usually as part of a wider role) are the norm.
Membership to a professional body is a great way to network with other professionals, to stay up to date and to enhance career opportunities. The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) is the world’s leading chartered professional body for people responsible for safety and health in the workplace, with more than 47,000 members in over 130 countries.
A career in health and safety is a highly rewarding profession making a massive impact on people’s lives and society, ensuring individuals can safely return home to their loved ones and lead a good quality of life. As previously mentioned, the health and safety profession has evolved. Organisations are now expected to go beyond compliance to protect and enhance people’s wellbeing with the intent to create a better, safer world.