Basics of Health and Safety Law

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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