The International Labour Organisation (ILO) marks its World Day for Safety and Health at Work on or around the 28th of April each year. This day is an international campaign to promote safe, healthy and decent work around the globe and has been observed by the ILO since 2003.
The annual World Day for Safety and Health at Work promotes the prevention of workplace accidents and diseases globally. It is an awareness-raising campaign intended to direct international attention on the enormity of the problem and on how publicising and establishing a safety and health ethos can help lessen the number of work-related deaths and injuries.
ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder said that "Almost 3 million workers die each year from occupational accidents and work related diseases. This is an unacceptable and avoidable human cost. We can and must reduce and eliminate such deaths, injuries and diseases from work."
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published key figures for 2020/21, which covers the first year of the pandemic, for the UK. Approximately 1.7 million working people were suffering from a work-related illness and 142 workers were killed at work compared to 111 in 2019/20. This marks a 28% rise at a time when a large proportion of the population were working from home. In 2020/21, 441,000 working people sustained a non-fatal self-reported injury at work compared to 693,000 the previous year according to the Labour Force Survey which has significantly fallen from the previous year (which may be indicative of the lockdowns the UK was under at the time).
The UK’s position on Health and Safety
The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 is the primary piece of legislation covering occupational health and safety in the UK outlining the general duties which: employers have towards employees and members of the public; employees have to themselves and to each other; and certain self-employed individuals have towards themselves and others. The starting point is: “It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.”
Under health and safety law, employers are responsible for managing health and safety risks in their businesses. The following provides an overview as to how the law applies to employers generally.
It is important to note that employees and the self-employed have important responsibilities too and it is not just the employer that bears the responsibility here in terms of health and safety adherence. Workers have a duty to take care of their own health and safety and that of others who may be affected by their actions at work. Workers must co-operate with employers and co-workers to assist everyone meet their legal obligations. The employer is ultimately in charge and legally responsible for their employees however that doesn’t mean that everybody else bears no responsibility. If an employee is found to be negligent or deliberately participating in dangerous practices, they can be found personally liable and criminally prosecuted. A responsible employee should always take reasonable care of their own safety and others; co-operate with their employer and follow instructions; not put others in danger; and report any hazards, illnesses or injuries.
It is an employer's duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and other people who might be affected by their work activities. Employers must do whatever is reasonably practicable to reach this. As a result, this means making sure that workers and others are protected from any risks arising from work pursuits.
Assess the risks
Employers have duties under health and safety law to assess risks in the workplace. This means identifying what work activities that could cause injury or illness and taking action to remove the hazard, or if this isn’t possible, to manage the risk.
Provide information about risks
Employers must give workers information about the risks in their workplace and how they are safeguarded and also how to deal with the risks.
Employers must consult employees on health and safety issues. Consultation must be either direct or through a safety representative that is either elected by the workforce or appointed for example by a trade union.
Provide health and safety information
Employers have a legal duty under the Health and Safety Information for Employees Regulations to display the approved poster in a prominent position in each workplace or to provide each worker with a copy of the approved leaflet.
Workers reporting a health and safety concern
If workers think their employer is exposing them to risks or is not carrying out their legal duties with regards to health and safety, and if this has been pointed out to them but no satisfactory response has been received, workers can report this to the HSE.
Working from home
With so many of us now working from home, there is also a need for employers to carry out at the very least a suitable workstation risk assessment for home working. A workstation risk assessment would be assessing things like whether there is appropriate equipment, is an additional screen required, correct seating etc.
Emerging risks at work
It is important to also note that according to the United Nations internationally, new and emerging occupational risks may be caused by technical innovation or by social or organisational change such as: new technologies and production processes, e.g. nanotechnology biotechnology; new working conditions, e.g. higher workloads, work intensification from downscaling, poor conditions associated with migration for work, jobs in the informal economy; and emerging forms of employment, e.g. self-employment, outsourcing, and temporary contracts. In the future, these risks may prompt a change to the current legislation however at present, the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 remains the primary piece of legislation covering occupational health and safety in the UK and must be followed by all employers
For more information or assistance please contact Noele McClelland in Thorntons specialist Employment Law team on 03330 430350.