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Basics of Health and Safety Law

By: Norman Thomson - Updated: 3 Nov 2016 | comments*Discuss
Health And Safety Law Legislation

Last year, 229 people were killed as a result of accidents at work. Over 108,000 people suffered a serious injury at work and over 2000 people died from occupationally related lung disease.

Health and safety legislation is there to prevent such losses.

But what is health and safety legislation all about?

Although any form of legislation at first seems complicated, in fact, the law is very straight forward. Health and safety legislation basically requires employers to put in place ‘control measures’ to ensure that five basic criteria have been met. These criteria are known as the Employers Duties, requiring employers to:

  • Ensure that work equipment that has been provided is safe and is maintained in a safe condition.
  • Ensure that chemicals and other substances are stored, handled and used safely.
  • Ensure that people are provided with adequate information, instruction and training in the tasks that they are being asked to perform.
  • Ensure there is good access to and from the workplace and in particular, ensure that escape routes are clear from debris and that good housekeeping standards are maintained.
  • Ensure that the working environment is kept safe and healthy.

Safe Work Equipment

Work equipment must be maintained in a safe condition. Under no circumstances should faulty equipment be used by anyone at work. Therefore, it is essential that equipment gets checked on a regular basis.

What do we Mean by Checking Equipment?

Well, it very much depends on the equipment and how it is used. For example, a photocopier in an office is usually plugged into the mains electrical supply, and usually remains in one place. Therefore, it would be perfectly acceptable for that item of equipment to receive basic electrical checks once every three years. An electrical check simply means checking the earth supply and checking to ensure that cables and the plug are in good condition.

However, an electric drill used on a construction site will suffer much more rigorous use than a photocopier. Therefore, it would be reasonable for this item of equipment to receive more frequent checks, perhaps on a daily basis before it is used. In addition, if the equipment is used very frequently, it might be a good idea for it to be checked once a year by a trained electrician.

Use of Chemicals

There are hundreds of different chemicals used in the workplace, each one of which presents a different type of risk. If a chemical is hazardous, the supplier or manufacturer should have provided a Material Data Sheet (MDS), which contains valuable information about the chemical and how it should be stored and used. The MDS will detail the type of protective clothing that should be used when handling the chemical e.g. gloves, apron, goggles etc. Employers have a legal duty to ensure that MDS are available in the workplace and that people know how to interpret the information in the MDS.

Staff Training in Health and Safety

All employees should be given health and safety training. As a minimum, new employees must be given an induction, which should cover topics such as: how to report an accident; how to respond in the event of a fire; how to use equipment safely; who to contact if there is a health and safety issue; and how to find information relating to health and safety.

In addition, employees should be trained in the precautions that they need to take when working with hazardous material, equipment or jobs that have significant risks associated with them.

Escape Routes and Housekeeping

A third of workplace accidents result from poor housekeeping standards. Debris left laying around, tools and equipment not tidied away properly and general office clutter all contribute to accidents at work.

It is particularly important that people are able to escape from their workplace in the event of an emergency. Therefore, all fire routes and fire doors should be kept clear of rubbish and these areas should never be used to store consumables or items of equipment. Fire escape routes should be properly marked, with adequate lighting and unambiguous signs to help people escape quickly.

Working Environment

It is important that the working environment is maintained in a healthy condition. This involves good standards of lighting, heating and ventilation. Eye strain can be prevented if lighting conditions are appropriate for the task. For example, people working in fine detail need bright but even illumination, while those working with machinery need lighting that is low in contrast. People need to be comfortable, therefore the temperature should be comfortable for the job that is being done.

By adhering to the general duties of employers, the workplace can be maintained in a healthy and safe condition, which will ensure that accidents and ill health are kept to a minimum.

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[Add a Comment]
I work in a warehouse with basically no health and safety - what is the minimum they need and if i had to go on a health and safety course , could i miss 1and 2 and do 3 - i have worked all my life in warehousing but have no training and i think my new wirkplace wants me to implement hs, do i have to take the other parts of the course, 1and 2 ? Mark
Coppo - 3-Nov-16 @ 6:34 PM
Hello I work in a warehouse, there are two of us who work in the warehouse. Part of the warehouse is used by our 15 delivery drivers. We sell car parts, batteries, exhausts etc. My question is, are babies aloud in Warehouses?. One of the vandrivers has a daughter who had a baby about a year ago. Quite frequently her daughter brings her baby in the warehouse, she's stays from 30 mins to a few hours. She has changed her baby on the warehouse floor, today they were putting together a kids wooden toy with bits all over the floor. What if I fall over her pram?, for instance or carry cot?, and hurt myself?. We carry around exhausts we pick and put on delivery vans, what if I was to collide with the baby?, would I be in trouble?. Basically if it is illegal to have babies in warehouses, what are my rights?.
Gobby - 30-Jun-16 @ 10:34 PM
Hi. I work in a busy kitchen. On regular occasions the kitchen is opened by one person. That person is on duty him or herself for a number of hours on their own. The kitchen is on a different level to any other floor, so there is no contact with anyone unless a person enters the kitchen or via a intercom. The chef is in work to set up the kitchen, put deliveries away and cook meals. This includes working with knives, hot oven, and grills. On a health and safety issue. Is this legal?
Spider - 26-May-16 @ 12:19 PM
Our ground floor store in work has recently been rented out which means our stock is now on the first floor. We are now expected to carry goods up and down these stairs.We don't feel safe doing this as it is at times impossible to carry goods and hold onto the hand rail. Also it means lots of extra journeys up and down the stairs. Are there any guidelines for stairs at work?
Elma - 3-Apr-16 @ 10:01 PM
Alex - Your Question:
I work in a warehouse that sells fibreglass it's freezing in the winter to the point you can barley move your hands we get no safety equipment provided when we're cutting the fibreglass there's also a glue machine that lets off fumes from melted glue there's no ventilation pipes you can see the fumes in the air what can I do about this?

Our Response:
Please see article: Legal Minimum Temperature in a Warehouse? Link here which should help you further and article Safety and Fume Management here. If neither of these article answers your questions fully and you think the health and safety law is being broken, or minimum standards are being ignored within the workplace, then you speak to the employer or person in control and try to resolve the issue. Please see HSE page for further information, here . I hope this helps.
WorkplaceSafetyAdvice - 19-Nov-15 @ 10:17 AM
I work in a warehouse that sells fibreglass it's freezing in the winter to the point you can barely move your hands we get no safety equipment provided when we're cutting the fibreglass there's also a glue machine that lets off fumes from melted glue there's no ventilation pipes you can see the fumes in the air what can I do about this?
Alex - 18-Nov-15 @ 10:57 AM
Hi, I work in a freezing cold warehouse that had plenty of heating when I started over a decade ago, now has none. The heaters are still there but haven't been serviced or maintained and now they don't work at all. Also it has become a VERY dusty environment, with floors left as bare concrete and you can see plumes of dust when something is dropped on the floor. Also, we have diesel fork lift trucks operating inside the warehouse causing us to inhale diesel fumes. Not sure what to do or how to go about things?
G - 14-Nov-15 @ 5:32 PM
@janice - I have included a HSE link specifically on soldering and its legal requirements here. I hope this helps.
WorkplaceSafetyAdvice - 26-May-15 @ 9:53 AM
We have solder with lead in our small manufacturing plant with no ventilation. I get constant headaches and sinuspain, dry mouth. Is there anything i can do about this. Is it. Legal in a workplace.
janice - 23-May-15 @ 12:14 AM
Hi I work in a shop in a small stockroom with no air conditioning no windows and no clean air ventilation, the only doors to the room are fire doors so have to be shut at all times , the heat is becoming unbearable to work in, are my company breaking the law and if so what can I do about this. Please let me know at the email address above. many regards.
hman - 6-Apr-14 @ 7:16 PM
Hi,I work as a nurse for 9 hours at night. 10pm - 7am My employer deducts 1 hour pay for my break. Which I often am unable to take. Can I leave the premises to take this? Plus are we entitled to have a chair other than a computer chair to sit on, for the whole shift? Thank you.
mrs l - 3-May-13 @ 9:52 AM
Simple use a sign in and out register, all of this should have been on the site induction.
Jock - 6-Apr-13 @ 7:25 PM
Hi,Can we insist that our employees notify us when they leave the premises at, for example, lunchtime? If so, under what grounds? We have employees who just up and go but without saying anything to anyone. My thought is that if there was a fire, for example, we wouldn't know who was there and who wasn't. I am not sure of what I can quote to reinforce the point.Can you advise, please?Many tahnks.Ilse
Mrs T - 5-Feb-13 @ 12:08 PM
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