‘Health and Safety’ may be a term that is used in a dismissive way by many people as a blanket condemnation of what they see as unnecessary caution about everyday risks - but for employers and employees this is far from the truth.
There is a huge raft of health and safety regulations that are vital if employers are to keep their staff safe and able to work and it is also the employees’ responsibility to ensure that established rules, policies and procedures are followed.
It really is a large subject and there is only the space to touch on it briefly here, but these are five key areas of which both employers and employees need to be aware.
Slips and trips
Workplaces are busy with potentially many people moving from place to place during the course of the working day. Whether it’s an office or a warehouse, a shop or a factory, this means that any hazards could mean that someone could trip up and seriously hurt him or herself. That’s why it’s important to keep floor areas free from obstructions with clear ‘thoroughfares’ for people to move around in.
Related in some ways to this is fire safety. If a fire ever did break out in a place of work it’s vital that everyone would be able to easily reach the fire exit, often when visibility may be poor. It’s also vital to let everyone know the evacuation procedure, to have the correct extinguishers available and to ensure that members of staff are trained in how to use them.
In 2013-14 there were over half a million reported cases of musculoskeletal work injuries and many of these related to lifting heavy objects incorrectly. So it is important that all staff are fully trained in safe lifting – and not just in factories and warehouses. Even the office environment presents a risk of injury if members of staff are involved in moving any heavy objects such as desks or boxes of copier paper.
There are a number of recommendations that relate to the safe use of computer screens as prolonged use can cause tired eyes and headaches. In fact employers have a legal obligation to provide a free sight test for any employee who requests one and who spends a significant part of their day on the computer. It’s therefore recommended that you ensure that employees who do a great deal of screen work have frequent breaks in the day to give their eyes a rest.
Long term exposure to high levels of noise can cause permanent hearing damage. The level at which this becomes a concern is at around 85 decibels or more and there are also regulations about the maximum sound levels permitted. If yours is a noisy environment it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure noise levels stay within the permitted limits and to provide all necessary ear protection.
For employees who feel that their hearing may be being affected by work you might also like to offer them expert hearing tests where their hearing can be assessed and, if necessary, hearing aids can be supplied.
As we’ve said, health and safety at work is a huge topic and there are many other areas to be considered. Larger companies often have their own experts in-house and there is no shortage of independent consultants who are happy to help SMEs to comply with the law. But whatever the size of your company it’s vital for both your and your employees’ benefit that you keep fully abreast of all legislation.