What is meant by health and safety in the workplace?
Written by Phoenix Health & Safety
12th August 2018
The meaning of health and safety in the workplace may seem too obvious to need explaining, but when it comes to health and safety, with all its legal ramifications, things are rarely as simple as they seem.
For example, this statement from the joint ILO/WHO Committee on Occupational Health shows how much more there is to health and safety in the workplace than simply preventing people from getting ill and having accidents. "Occupational health should aim at: the promotion and maintenance of the highest degree of physical, mental and social wellbeing of workers in all occupations; the prevention amongst workers of departures from health caused by their working conditions; the protection of workers in their employment from risks resulting from factors adverse to health; the placing and maintenance of the worker in an occupational environment adapted to his physiological and psychological capabilities; and, to summarize, the adaptation of work to man and of each man to his job." In other words, health and safety in the workplace is about promoting positive wellbeing as well as preventing injury and illness.
Mainly the employer’s responsibilityUnder UK law it’s the employer’s responsibility to protect the health and safety of not only their employees, but also anyone else who might be affected by the business. Customers, visitors and passers-by for example. The law recognises that 100% protection is not a realistic expectation. 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 at work of employees. For most small, low-risk businesses just a few straightforward measures are all that’s needed. All businesses have to conduct a risk assessment and have a health and safety policy. The law states that those with fewer than five employees don’t need to write down their health and safety policy or risk assessment results – although it’s probably wise to do so in any case.
HealthOccupational health has been defined as ‘enabling people to undertake their occupation in the way that causes least harm to their health’. But 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.”
Why workplace health mattersThe best reason for a business to look after the health of its employees and promote their well being 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. And health problems at work are extremely common, as shown by the latest government figures:
- 1 in 4 UK employees have a physical health condition
- 1 in 8 has a mental health condition
- 1 in 10 has a musculoskeletal condition
- 1 in 3 has a long-term health condition
- 42% of those with a health condition say that it affects their work