Workers’ health and safety FAQs

This site provides information for all workers on their rights and responsibilities that affect health and safety at work.

All workers are entitled to work in environments where risks to their health and safety are properly controlled. Under health and safety law, the primary responsibility for this is down to employers. Employers have a duty to consult with their employees, or their representatives, on health and safety matters.

Which law covers health and safety in the UK?

The main law governing health and safety at work in the United Kingdom is the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HSW Act). This places general duties on you to do what is reasonably practicable to ensure health and safety.

Other regulations supporting the HSW Act set out more detailed legal duties for specific activities or industries. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has produced publications to help you understand what these mean in practice.

What work activities are covered by health and safety law?

All work activities are covered by health and safety laws. The Health and Safety Executive enforces a range of legislation, including;

  • The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. Regulations made under this act apply to all work situations, for example the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) and the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations.
  • Other laws that cover particular hazards, such as parts of the Food and Environmental Protection Act and the Control of Pesticides Regulations, both of which are about pesticides.
  • Laws that cover health and safety in specific industries such as mining, nuclear, railway, explosives and offshore oil and gas;
  • Older laws that predate the Health and safety at Work Act, and cover a range of industries, but not all workplaces, such as the Factories Act and regulations made under it. Most of these laws are gradually being modernised.

Although all working situations are covered by health and safety regulations, not all workplaces are inspected by HSE. Enforcement of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act and related legislation is shared with Local Authorities who cover certain types of work activities.

Both employers and workers should  read Health and safety law: what you need to know. This contains the same information that is displayed on Health and Safety law posters.

Why do I need a risk management consultant?

Usually, managing health and safety isn’t complicated and you can do it yourself with the help of your workers. You know your workplace best and the risks associated with it.

If there’s a competent person within your workforce, use them in preference to a competent person from outside your business.

You may need help and advice from someone outside if your business:

  • is large, complex or high risk
  • doesn’t have the competence to manage health and safety in-house

If you use a consultant or adviser from outside your business make sure they are competent, suitable and that you will get the help you need.

McCann RMS are fully qualified health and safety consultant. View all our Health and Safety assessment and training services.

As the employer, managing health and safety will still be your legal duty, even if you use someone from outside your business.

What information must employers provide to employees and representatives?

Employers have a responsibility to provide information to all workers that will enable them to know the risks and allow them to participate fully and effectively in consultations about their health and safety.

Information can be provided in whatever form is most suitable, as long as it can be understood by everyone. Employers may need to make special arrangements for employees who do not understand English very well, who cannot read or who have a condition that means they need to be given information in different ways.

Safety representatives are entitled to see copies of any document that employers must keep under health and safety law, for example the important findings of risk assessments or information relating to occurrences of any accident, dangerous occurrence or notifiable industrial disease.

Employers should give employees and representatives information that lets them understand:

  • what the risks and dangers are for their work, or could be if there are changes to their work which will affect health and safety;
  • what is done, or will be done to reduce or stop the risks and dangers;
  • what they ought to do when they come across a risk or dangerous situation; and
  • the identity of the competent person.

By law, employers do not have to give employees or their representatives any information that:

  • would be against the interests of national security or against the law;
  • is about someone who has not given their permission for it to be shared;
  • would – other than for reasons of its effect on health, safety or welfare – harm the business;
  • is obtained by the employer to bring or defend legal proceedings.

Can safety representatives inspect records of accidents?

If an employer has more than 10 employees, or owns or occupies a mine, quarry or factory, they must keep an accident book under social security law.

Safety representatives are legally entitled to inspect records of accidents that employers have to keep under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR)

The Accident Book BI510 is a valuable document that organisations can use to record accident information as part of their management of health and safety.

A tick box is included on each page of the Accident Book asking whether the injured person gives his or her consent to the disclosure of the information contained in that record to safety representatives.

The employer should:

  • if the injured person has ticked the tick box (and signed the form), disclose the information contained in the accident record, so far as it relates to the injured person, to safety representatives and/or representatives of employee safety;
  • anonymise the information if the injured person does not tick the tick box and disclose it to safety representatives and/or representatives of employee safety.

The arrangements to pass on this information should be discussed between employers, employees and/or their representatives. The aim should be to make the best possible use of this (and other) information to meet health and safety objectives. By following this approach you and your employer will not be infringing the Data Protection Act (DPA) or confidentiality law.

What is ‘Whistleblowing’?

‘Blowing the whistle’ or ‘whistleblowing’ means that if an employee believes there is wrongdoing in their workplace, i.e. their employer is committing a criminal offence (this may include, for example, threats to an individual’s health and safety) they can report this by following the correct processes, and their employment rights are protected.

What are the entitlements to rest breaks and paid holidays?

There are different entitlements on rest breaks depending upon the terms in  your contract and the type of work you do.  All workers are entitled to paid holidays.

Is an employer required to carry out a separate risk assessment for each disabled employee?

No, there is no requirement to carry out a separate risk assessment for a disabled employee. Employers should already be managing any significant workplace risks, including putting control measures in place to eliminate or reduce the risks. If an employer becomes aware of an employee who has a disability, they should review the risk assessment to make sure it covers risks that might be present for that employee.

How does an employer assess whether an employee’s condition puts themselves and others at risk?

An employer must not make assumptions about an employee’s condition and should consider a number of things:

  1. Have the risks to all employees been assessed properly and appropriate control measures put in place?
    It may be that appropriate changes to the work equipment and environment could significantly reduce the risk and take the issue of disability out of the equation.
  2. Does the employee’s condition create an increased risk to their health and safety or the health and safety of others?
    The condition might be well managed and the employer may conclude that review of the situation at regular intervals is sufficient.

    • If so, can these risks be prevented or adequately controlled through normal health and safety management?
      Can the risks be addressed by allowing other colleagues to do certain elements of the activity, or by providing suitable, alternative equipment, for example automated equipment to reduce manual handling or change systems of work?
    • If not, what reasonable adjustments could be put in place to prevent or adequately control the residual risks?
      The employer might be able to apply for financial assistance through the Government’s Access to Work scheme to cover the cost of new equipment.
    • Be sure to consult with the employee themselves and colleagues, seeking opinions and ensuring they are involved in discussions which affect them.  Those involved in the work often propose good solutions.

How often should I review a COSHH assessment?

An assessment should be revisited to ensure that it is kept up to date and an employer should do this regularly. The date of the first review and the length of time between successive reviews will depend on type of risk, the work, and the employers judgement on the likelihood of changes occurring.

The assessment should be reviewed immediately if:

There is any reason to suppose that the original assessment is no longer valid, eg evidence from the results of examining and testing engineering controls, reports from supervisors about defects in control systems; or

Any of the circumstances of the work should change significantly and especially one which may have affected employees exposure to a hazardous substance

The requirement is for a review of the assessment. This does not mean that the whole assessment process will have to be repeated at each review. The first purpose of review is to see if the existing assessment is still suitable and sufficient.  If it is, then you do not need to do any more.

If it appears that the assessment is no longer valid, it does not mean that the whole assessment has to be revised.  Only those parts that do not reflect the new situation need amending.

Whether or not there is any real change in the situation, there is an absolute requirement to review the situation on a regular basis. Without this, there is a danger that gradual change over a period of time goes unnoticed and the assessment becomes unsuitable and insufficient by default.

More information about COSHH assessment.