Sarah Calderwood: How to protect employees’ health in the workplace

New law passed for Apprentices by the government.

It’s all very well having a health programme in place at work, but are we actually aware of the law that obligates us to provide this service to our employees? Sarah Calderwood explains to us more with case studies.

Health and safety at work covers an extensive range of issues from simple checks of an employee’s work station to ensuring that full training is given to employees operating machinery and that comprehensive safety systems are in place. Sanctions for non-compliance can be serious and at times can result in imprisonment and hefty fines. Each organisation should have at least one person allocated to dealing with health and safety issues and many businesses will engage external support to guide them through the health and safety issues applicable to their specific business.

It is useful to understand the potential consequences of non-compliance with health and safety law and some examples are highlighted below along with some examples of situations where health and safety law needs to be adhered to within a business.

1. The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 means that organisations can now be guilty of corporate manslaughter in certain situations where a person dies at work. An unlimited fine can be imposed and the court can force the organisation to publicise the conviction which would of course cause reputational damage. By way of example, in December 2015 Baldwins Crane Hire Limited were convicted of corporate manslaughter and fined £700,000 plus all the CPS costs and half of the Health and Safety Executive’s costs. This conviction arose after the death of a crane driver following a crash which was found to be caused by serious issues with the braking system which had not been properly maintained.

2. The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and other related health and safety regulations impose a wide range of legal obligations on employers. It is notable that an individual director, company secretary or manager of an organisation can be convicted of a criminal offence on an individual basis where the company is guilty of a health and safety offence and that offence was with the consent, connivance of or attributable to any neglect on the part of the individual director or manager. It should be noted that convictions for company directors for manslaughter are on the increase and the criminal penalties can include imprisonment as well as a fine. By way of example:

An apprentice at the Princess Yachts International yard died in an explosion and the Managing Director received a 12-month prison sentence.

Three former care home bosses were accused of manslaughter by gross negligence following the death of a woman aged 86. A director Yousef Kahn was sentenced to three years and two months after pleading guilty to gross negligence manslaughter. The manager (an employee) was sentenced to one year imprisonment suspended for two years.
What should directors do? Guidance from HSE states that directors should:

– Plan the direction for effective health and safety management, which includes defining the roles of the board and individual board members in the health and safety policy.

– Deliver health and safety to the organisation by introducing management systems and practices to ensure that risks are dealt with sensibly, responsibly and proportionately.

– Monitor health and safety through specific and routine reports on the performance of the health and safety policy.

– Formally review health and safety performance at least once a year.

3. The number of people suffering with mental ill health and stress is on the increase and as part of an employer’s health and safety obligations, an employer must address situations where stress may arise and take steps to promote positive mental health at work. It is therefore advisable for employers to have a stress at work policy as this will help to highlight situations where an employee is suffering from stress and will provide solutions to reducing the stress before a serious problem results. Stress can amount to a disability under the Equality Act 2010 and can also result in personal injury claims against the employer.

4. Employers must carry out risk assessments in respect of pregnant employees. Where the job is causing the pregnant woman to be at risk then an employer must suspend the pregnant employee on health and safety grounds or alternatively change her duties if that is possible.

5. On 25 January 2017, the Petitions Committee and the Women and Equalities Committee published a joint report entitled ‘High Heels and Workplace Dress Codes’. This followed the petition signed by 150,000 people requiring it to be illegal for employers to require female staff to wear high heels at work after an employee was sent home for not wearing high heels. Health and safety issues were raised as part of the report highlighting the fact that health and safety issues need to be at the forefront of employer’s minds.

The above highlights some of the main areas that employers should be aware of respect of health and safety and it is highly recommended that a company has a health and safety policy in place and that they take advice from a health and safety expert in respect of their obligations particularly if working in more dangerous industries such as construction or in a factory environment.

About Sarah Calderwood

Sarah Calderwood, a human resources and employment lawyer at leading Manchester law firm Slater Heelis LLP, explains the importance of considering employees’ health and safety at all times.

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