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 responsibility
Under 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.
Occupational 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 matters
The 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
Some types of business are inherently more dangerous than others - mining and those involving the handling of explosives and noxious chemicals or working at height for example. But it’s impossible to run any kind of business without incurring some level of risk.
As with health, employers are responsible for the physical safety of employees and anyone else who visits the workplace. A list of possible safety measures would be so long it would take us into War and Peace territory. But common sense measures include making sure that buildings and equipment are in good repair and that the relevant safety regulations are carefully followed. This is why a health & safety risk assessment is so essential for every organisation.
Prevention is better than cure
Companies are regularly prosecuted following accidents in the workplace. When the HSE reports on these prosecutions the same few mistakes constantly recur: failures to assess risks accurately and plan tasks correctly, neglecting to provide the right training and supervision. These problems are mentioned time and time again.
The conclusion is clear. When it comes to avoiding health and safety problems, having the right procedures, systems and training in place is at least as important as the physical state of the premises and equipment. Choose the right training courses from an expert provider such as Phoenix and you’re on your way to successfully managing health and safety in the workplace.