September 9, 2021

What Is Meant By Health And Safety In The Workplace?

In this article, we’ll discuss the definition of workplace health and safety, what it means for employers, and why risk assessments are important

Occupational health and safety focus on: 

  • Promotion and maintenance of the highest degree of physical, mental, and social wellbeing of workers in all occupations
  • Prevention of worker absence due to poor health caused by their working conditions
  • Protection of workers in their employment from risks resulting from factors adverse to health
  • Assessment of an employee’s occupational environment, and adapting to their physiological and psychological capabilities

Two things are clear. Workplace health and safety is about promoting positive wellbeing, in terms of their comfort, happiness and contentment not simply preventing people from getting ill and having accidents. And it places several serious responsibilities on employers.

Employers health and safety duties

Under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, employers have a legal duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of employees whilst at work.

All businesses must identify the hazards within the workplace and assess the risks from those hazards and implement control measures to mitigate those risks. This is defined in law under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. All businesses must carry out risk assessments, however, where you have 5 employees or less these do not have to be written down. It is generally best practice do document this though in order to be able to communicate it effectively.

There is a legal requirement also under the health and safety at work act to have a written health and safety policy, which includes steps on how to implement the policy. Employers must provide the relevant training as part of the implementation process. For most small, low-risk businesses just a few straightforward measures are all that’s needed.

One key reason for a business to look after the well-being of its employees is that it can enhance productivity and loyalty. People with health problems are more likely to be absent from work, less productive when in work, and more likely to leave.

Definition of occupational health

Occupational health has been defined as “enabling people to undertake their occupation in a way that causes the least harm to their health.”

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), this is too narrow, because health means much more: “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

Occupational health problems are extremely common, as shown by the latest government figures (2019):

  • 1.6 million work-related ill health cases.
  • 0.8 million work-related stress, depression or anxiety cases.
  • Half a million work-related musculoskeletal disorder cases.
  • 38.8 million working days lost due to work-related ill health.
  • £16 billion annual costs of workplace injury.

So, when business owners ask “what does health and safety mean for me?” the answer is this: keeping your employees safe, ensuring that staff have the appropriate training and information, which in turn improves morale, efficiency, and leads to a healthy business.

What is a health and safety risk assessment?

As with health, employers are responsible for the physical safety of employees and anyone else who visits the workplace. This means making sure the relevant safety regulations are carefully followed.

risk assessment is not just a means to ensure you are complying with the law. It is a 5 step process:

  1. Identify all the things within your business that could cause a person harm (the hazards)
  2. Identify who could be harmed and assess how they could be harmed (the risk)
  3. Implement control measures to mitigate those risks (what are you going to do to prevent the harm)
  4. Review the risk assessment when there are any changes
  5. Record your findings

A risk assessment is not a one-off process and must be completed with the employees and you must consult with them and gain their input for them to be suitable and sufficient.

It is an extremely important document that ensures you have done everything “reasonably practicable” as a business to ensure the safety of your employees and helps you to demonstrate this if ever required to the relevant authorities or insurers.

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