Ensuring health and safety in the workplace is a shared responsibility between employers and employees. While the employer has the primary duty to provide a safe working environment, employees also have important legal and ethical obligations. Here is an overview of key health and safety responsibilities for employees.
Following Established Rules and Procedures
One of the fundamental employee responsibilities is to follow all established rules and procedures relating to health and safety. This includes:
- Adhering to safe work practices outlined in training manuals and sessions. For example, correctly using machinery guards, wearing appropriate protective gear, reporting problems immediately etc.
- Operating equipment carefully and per the manufacturer’s guidelines. Never take shortcuts or ignore usage instructions.
- Following proper protocols when handling hazardous substances. Ensuring correct protective gear is worn and substances are properly stored and labelled.
- Using any required personal protective equipment properly and consistently. Whether that be Hi-Viz clothing, goggles, hard hats, boots or masks.
- Reporting unsafe conditions, near misses or lapses in health and safety procedures to a supervisor immediately. Never assume someone else will report an issue.
- Participating fully in all health and safety training and educational programs provided by the employer.
- Reading all provided health and safety materials thoroughly and asking clarifying questions if unsure about anything.
- Cooperating during workplace safety inspections and investigations.
Following health and safety rules demonstrates a commitment to maintaining a safe workplace. It also ensures compliance with the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and other regulations.
Reporting Hazards or Risks
Employees have a duty to report any hazards or risks they identify in the workplace that could compromise health and safety. Potential hazards could include:
- Trip or slip hazards such as loose carpeting, cables across walkways, and spilt liquids.
- Faulty electrical installations like exposed wiring, missing covers or shortage risks.
- Unguarded machinery or missing protective barriers.
- Fire risks like blocked fire exits or extinguishers, and lack of visible fire alarms.
- Structural issues such as loose scaffolding, unstable shelves or stacks.
- Lack of adequate lighting or ventilation.
- Missing or faulty personal protective equipment.
- Any other dangerous working conditions.
Reporting should be prompt and submitted according to workplace procedures, whether that be notifying a supervisor or making a report in writing. It is not sufficient to simply hope someone else will report the issue eventually. Reporting gives the employer a chance to evaluate risks and implement controls before accidents occur. Employees should not worry about reprisals for reporting in good faith.
Documenting Accidents, Injuries and Illnesses
In addition to reporting hazards proactively, employees also have a duty to properly report any accidents, injuries or illnesses connected to the workplace.
- Workplace injuries must be promptly reported to a supervisor and fully documented according to policy. Even minor cuts should get appropriate first-aid treatment and be logged.
- Illnesses that may be caused by work conditions also need to be reported to access benefits and prevent others from falling ill.
- Employees who witness an accident involving a co-worker must make sure it is reported properly.
- Any symptoms of existing conditions worsening due to work activities should be documented.
Proper documentation ensures issues are addressed appropriately. It also enables access to workers’ and protects employee rights after accidents. Failure to report issues promptly can negatively impact later claims.
Cooperating With Health and Safety Investigations
When accidents, injuries or near misses occur, employers have a duty to carry out a thorough health and safety investigation. As an employee, cooperating fully with these investigations is an important responsibility.
This cooperation may include:
- Providing prompt and accurate written or verbal statements regarding the incident.
- Answering questions from investigators honestly and to the best of your knowledge.
- Assisting with gathering evidence, recreating events or testing theories on causes.
- Attending investigatory interviews and providing testimony.
- Providing contextual information about training, equipment etc. if relevant.
The aim of investigations is fact-finding, not fault-placing. Employees should cooperate without fear of reprisal for honest participation. Withholding information only impedes the investigation and prevents putting improved safety measures in place.
Participating in Health and Safety Training
To protect themselves and others, employees must learn how to work safely and identify risks. Employers have a duty to provide training, and employees are obliged to participate.
- Attend all orientation or onboarding training for new hires.
- Take part in job-specific training for certain roles.
- Complete refresher training periodically to update knowledge.
- Read all provided manuals and materials thoroughly.
- Ask questions and clarify anything not fully understood.
- Provide feedback on how training could be improved if any elements are unclear.
Staying informed and proactive is key to fostering a culture of safety. A lack of proper training is not an excuse for cutting corners or recklessness.
Exercising the Right to Refuse Unsafe Work
Occasionally an employee may be asked to do work they have reasonable justification to believe is unsafe. In these rare cases, employees have a right to refuse to perform the work and should notify their supervisor right away.
Situations warranting refusal could include:
- Being asked to operate machinery you are not qualified or trained to use properly.
- Working with dangerous chemicals without adequate protective gear.
- Entering an area with known respiratory risks without a mask.
- Working on an elevated surface without fall protection.
Any refusal should be based on a genuine belief there is serious risk, not just an inconvenience. And the employee still has a duty to perform other safe tasks assigned to them. Refusing unsafe work is protected by law, and employees cannot legally be punished for exercising this right.
Frequently Asked Questions
Employees often have questions about their health and safety responsibilities. Here are some common ones:
What if my boss asks me to cut corners or speed things up in an unsafe way?
You should not comply with orders you genuinely believe endanger health and safety. Explain the risks and urge them to modify the instructions. You have a right to refuse unsafe work.
Can I get fired or punished for reporting legitimate health and safety concerns?
Employers cannot legally retaliate or discriminate against employees who make good-faith reports of issues in the workplace. Your role is to prevent harm by speaking up, not covering up problems.
What if I don’t know how to properly operate equipment or perform certain job tasks safely?
You have a duty to proactively inform your supervisor that you have not received proper training and feel unable to complete tasks safely. Never try to operate machinery or perform functions you are not qualified for.
Do I really need to report minor injuries or illnesses that don’t seem serious?
Yes, even minor workplace injuries and illnesses should be reported according to policy. This protects your rights if complications develop later. Documentation also helps identify risk areas.
What if I’m genuinely not sure if an injury or illness is work-related or not?
You do not need to be certain an ailment is work-related to report it. Reporting promptly allows medical professionals to make the determination through proper diagnosis and investigation.
Can I actually get fired for refusing to perform tasks I believe are dangerous?
You cannot legally be terminated or punished for refusing in good faith to perform work you have reasonable grounds to consider dangerously unsafe. You have a right to refuse and a responsibility to speak up.
Where can I report issues if my own employer does not resolve them adequately?
You can submit a confidential complaint to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) if genuinely concerned about unaddressed risks in your workplace.
Maintaining health and safety is a collaborative effort between employers and employees. While employers hold the primary responsibility, employees also have a crucial role to play by upholding their duties. Understanding and fulfilling your responsibilities demonstrates a commitment to your own welfare and that of others in the workplace. A culture of health and safety requires vigilance from all.