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Knowledge Base » Health and Safety » What is Occupational Health and Safety?

What is Occupational Health and Safety?

Last updated on 22nd February 2023

Occupational health and safety is the process of ensuring the health, safety and welfare of people at work. Every company has a responsibility, under UK legislation, to keep their workforce safe. The responsibility falls specifically to the health and safety managers within the company.

This post will provide a refresher for health and safety managers around the importance of health and safety, pertinent legislation, the duties of the health and safety manager and the 10-step process that all businesses must do. You should regularly reflect on your own health and safety practice and assess what is going well and what could be improved upon. It is worth noting that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is the governmental appointed body responsible for enforcing workplace legislation in the UK.

All of the workforce should understand the importance of health and safety

As part of the role of health and safety manager, it is important that the understanding of the relevance of health and safety is communicated to the rest of the workforce. After all, they are going to be responsible for implementing the policies and guidance in their everyday tasks. It only takes one person to not follow health and safety guidance for a serious injury to occur.

Safety on construction site

The role of the health and safety manager varies depending upon the setting

Depending on the company and environment a health and safety manager is positioned in, the role will be very different. For example, a health and safety manager in an office will have different priorities to a health and safety manager on a construction site. Managers must be able to adapt legislation and policy to support the environment they work within in order to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the workforce.

The duties of health and safety managers include:

  • Formulating company specific procedures and policies.
  • Conducting risk assessments.
  • Providing health and safety training for employees.
  • Conducting health and safety inspections/checks.
  • Developing a procedure for reporting accidents.
  • Provide, and train employees, with PPE (personal protective equipment).
  • Respond to safety complaints/concerns.
  • Be responsible for first-aid procedures and provide training.
  • Managing emergency procedures.

At the heart of health and safety management is leading by example. Of course, you must fulfil all of the above duties, but you must also demonstrate to staff a positive health and safety culture.

Health and safety legislation in the workplace

These are the Health and Safety at Work Act, The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations and The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations. In this section, we will briefly outline what each policy is and how it influences the role of health and safety managers.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974

This is the primary piece of legislation that must be considered for occupational health and safety. It outlines the general duties that employers have to employees and members of the public, that employees have to themselves and each other and certain self-employed individuals have towards themselves and others.

To very briefly summarise this legislation, it states that a workplace must have:

  • Adequate training of staff to ensure health and safety procedures are understood and adhered to.
  • Adequate welfare provisions for staff at work.
  • A safe working environment that is properly maintained and where operations within it are conducted safely.
  • Suitable provision of relevant information, instruction and supervision.
  • A written record of health and safety policy for workplaces with more than 5 employees.
Health and safety slippery floor signs

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

This document is centered around assessing potential risks to the health and safety of the workforce and acting upon these in order to identify and reduce them. In summary, this legislation states that places of work must…

  • Make ‘assessments of risk’ to the health and safety of the workforce, act upon these risks so as to reduce the potential risk.
  • Appoint a competent person to oversee workplace health and safety, this is usually in the form of a health and safety manager.
  • Provide workers with information and training on occupational health and safety.
  • Operate a written health and safety policy.

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 focus around the work environment and how this can impact the health, safety and welfare of employees.

The three key points of this document are that employers must provide:

  • Adequate lighting, heating, ventilation and workplace and keep them in clean condition.
  • Staff facilities, including toilets, wash facilities and refreshment.
  • Safe passageways, for example the removal of tripping hazards.

Health and safety policies ensure that the workplace is safe

As a health and safety manager, one of your key duties is the development of a health and safety policy. This is broken down into three sections; writing the policy, operationalising the policy and adapting the policy. A health and safety policy should not remain the same for a long period of time, it should regularly be reflected upon and adapted as a result of changes in the workplace or ‘good-practice’.

Writing the health and safety policy from scratch can be difficult, but it is by no means impossible. In all likelihood, your employer will already have one in place that you can use as a basis for re-writing if required. A health and safety policy should always include a statement of intent, responsibilities for health and safety and arrangements for health and safety. Often, for ease, policies will be broken down into these three headings.

Statement of intent – This should include a brief summary of your general policy on health and safety at work, including your commitment to managing health and safety. It should outline your aims with regards to health and safety. It should be signed and reviewed regularly.

Responsibilities for health and safety – This will be a list of names, positions and roles of people within the company who have specific responsibilities in terms of health and safety.

Arrangements for health and safety – This section will provide details of practical arrangements that are in place, showing how these will achieve your health and safety aims. This section will outline important aspects such as risk assessments, training and safety signs/equipment in use.

Your policy will fit in with current legislation surrounding health and safety and demonstrate clearly how you are achieving this within the workplace.

Site safety signs

Risk of serious injury

As a health and safety manager it is your responsibility to ensure that staff understand the health and safety policy and how to implement it in their role. Inadequate health and safety training for all staff, surrounding both the health and safety policy and general health and safety, can mean that employees do not know how to stay safe in the work environment, this can result in serious injury. This is also the case if employees choose not to follow the health and safety policy.

Let’s take a look at a few examples of cases where health and safety training has been inadequate/ignored and the consequences of this:

1. When a delivery driver failed to follow protocol regarding unloading the van, he was struck by a car coming the opposite direction resulting in a broken leg and back injury.
2. A special needs support worker was assaulted by a child in their care. The result was a concussion and other facial injuries. This happened as a result of other staff failing to follow the health and safety policy as the special needs support worker was left alone with a high risk individual, which went against policy.
3. Machine worker failed to turn off the machine before reaching in to dislodge an obstruction, this resulted in amputation of the arm. This occurred as a direct consequence of inadequate health and safety training, as the employee failed to follow protocol.
4. A roller coaster crash at a popular theme park which resulted in serious injuries for many members of the public riding the roller coaster. Injuries included leg amputations and other life changing injuries. This happened as a consequence of staff failing to receive adequate health and safety training, allowing them to make a potentially fatal decision.

Keeping employees and the public safe

As you can see, failing to follow health and safety policy, or failing to provide adequate health and safety training, can cause potentially very serious, or fatal injuries, for staff and patrons. With 123 workers killed at work between 2021-2022, the health and safety manager position is one to take seriously. Due to improved training and guidance in recent years, the number of fatalities at work is falling year on year, but this doesn’t mean that we can be complacent. Failure to comply with the legislation can result in unlimited fines and periods of imprisonment, in addition to having a serious impact on the lives of employees and the public which can result in compensation orders.

Communicating and implementing a solid health and safety policy in the workplace is the main factor for reducing the risk of injury or death. Ensuring that those responsible for implementing the health and safety policy, and risk assessments, have adequate training is of the utmost importance.

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About the author

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Sarah Jules

Sarah is a qualified teacher and has worked in education for almost ten years. After gaining her BA in Teaching and Education (with QTS), Sarah went on to study her MA degree, specialising in Special Educational Needs, more specifically the Autism Spectrum. Sarah spends most of her free time with her rescue pup Buster and her partner. She enjoys yoga, books and scary films.

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