Always remember that employees and employers have a shared legal duty to ensure workplace safety.
It's a sad fact of everyday life that, when some people have an accident at work, the thought of a compensation payout begin to bubble even before they have arrived at the hospital. Sensationalised convictions and some of the cases brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have sadly encouraged this mindset, helping to snowball the belief that accidents equal payouts. The reality, though, is that workplace safety isn't just the responsibility of an employer: employees are also obliged to act sensibly to avoid endangering themselves and others.
Forty years on it is easy to forget that the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act of 1974 was a landmark piece of legislation. The changes in the law set out comprehensive obligations for businesses and other employers to protect employee welfare. Over time, these regulations have been tweaked and strengthened as the workplace has evolved, but its core has remained unchanged. The law still stresses the duty that employees have to not to endanger their co-workers or themselves.
Section 7 of the Act very clearly states that an employee must "take reasonable care for the health and safety of himself and of other persons who may be affected by his acts or omissions at work", whilst also co-operating with the requirements imposed by employers to ensure workplace safety. Section 8, meanwhile, states that no person can misuse anything provided in the interests of health and safety.
When an offence is committed under any section of the act, an individual who flouts these rules can be charged and convicted - whether or not the employer is also charged. In other words, individual employees can be held responsible for violations of workplace safety even if the employer is completely exonerated.
Learning the Lesson
This is an important point to make to employees, particularly those who might otherwise have a lax approach to their own safety and that of others. Safety is something that everyone - not just employers - need to be aware of; when a business has taken all reasonable steps to ensure safety, and one individual causes an accident by undermining safe practices, that person is at risk of criminal prosecution. In the UK, successful prosecutions can lead to six months' imprisonment and a £20,000 fine - or two years' imprisonment and an unlimited fine if the case is escalated to the Crown Court.
So, when you're training new staff, make sure that they understand that creating hazards in the workplace isn't just stupid - it's criminal too. Ideally, every organisation wants to establish a culture where each individual feels responsible for the health and safety of themselves and their colleagues. You can find some useful advice on creating this positive health and safety culture here.
During your your induction training programme it is worth including reference to Engage EHS, particularly as the software is designed to enable employee involvement in workplace health and safety measures. Employees can report issues and risks, while also seeing that a transparent system of following up and action is in place. You can see what the software is like to use with a free demo, or contact us if you have any questions.