Legal Article - Health & Safety

Health and Safety Practical Issues

Employees, who smoke, consume alcohol, take drugs, become HIV affected and suffer stress cause special health and safety difficulties for employers.

Health and Safety: Smoking in the Workplace

Health and Safety: Smoking in the Workplace

Since July 2007, it has become illegal to smoke in the workplace. The ban applies to all work places including work vehicles, offices and canteens. The ban also applies to public places, transport, restaurants, pubs, cafes and shops.

The ban extends to any public area that is wholly enclosed or substantially enclosed.

Employers must display 'no smoking' signs in all premises and within company vehicles and take reasonable steps to ensure that the staff, customers and visitors are aware of the restrictions.

If you are to permit smoking outside then it should be made clear, in writing, where that smoking area is situated. There is no requirement to provide such an area and / or a shelter for staff.


Health and Safety: Employee Consumption of Drugs and Alcohol in the Workplace

Health and Safety: Employee Consumption of Drugs and Alcohol in the Workplace

Employers have obligations under common law and the Health and Safety at Work Act to keep their employees safe and healthy. Employers are obliged to take reasonable steps to ensure that their employees are not acting under the influence of alcohol or drugs if this is likely to risk the health and safety of themselves or others.

Clear rules should be established and made known to employees that neither substance should be brought onto the employers’ premises, nor consumed on them. Particular reference should be made to prescribed medications when the side effects may cause a Health and Safety issue.

If employees are found to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs they should be removed from the premises and disciplinary or other action taken against them.


Health and Safety: Illness and Contamination in the Workplace

Health and Safety: Illness and Contamination in the Workplace

As part of the overall risk assessment employers should try to identify work practices where employees or the public may come into contact with infected body fluids, especially blood (e.g. vehicle recovery operations, first aide’s and valeting operators).

The employer then has a responsibility to inform and train those specific employees in how to reduce the risk of becoming infected and to provide any necessary personal protective equipment (e.g. disposable or heavy PVC gloves and overalls).

In general this risk is likely to arise from accidents and their treatment. The usual good hygiene practices adopted to prevent the spread of infection generally will be sufficient to prevent infection by the AID’s virus.

There is generally no obligation on individuals to disclose their infection or to submit to medical tests for the virus. Anything which can be interpreted as an inquisition into an employee’s personal life-style should be avoided.

If an employee is known to be infected there may be rare circumstances in which it would be appropriate either for their own safety, or the safety of others, to consider a move to alternative duties.

Knowledge of their infection should, however, be treated in confidence and disclosed to others only with the employee’s permission except where, on the basis of medical advice, it is necessary to protect the safety of others.

Employee confidentiality is essential when dealing with an issue of a sensitive nature, such as this.

Health and Safety: Stress in the Workplace

Health and Safety: Stress in the Workplace

The Health and Safety Executive defines stress as "people's natural reaction to excessive pressure", which can lead to mental and physical ill health (e.g. depression, nervous breakdown, heart disease).

The employer has a duty to prevent this as far as is reasonably practical. As for other health and safety problems the employer must undertake a risk assessment by

  • Looking for pressures at work which could cause high and long-lasting levels of stress
  • Deciding who might be harmed by these
  • Deciding whether enough is being done to prevent that harm
  • Take all reasonable steps to eliminate or reduce those pressures

Symptoms of stress include an increase in absenteeism (especially frequent short spells of sickness), lateness, staff turnover, disciplinary problems, reduction in output, reduction in quality of product or service, deteriorating relationships with colleagues, changes in personality (irritability, indecisiveness), self-neglect, obsessional behaviour, smoking or drinking more, taking drugs and more complaints about ill health e.g. headaches.

Problems at work that can lead to stress include: boring or repetitive work, too little to do, too much to do or too little time to do it in, insufficient training, confusion about how everyone fits in, too much responsibility, poor relationships with colleagues, bullying (including sexual and racial harassment as well as frequently belittling someone or constant criticism), inflexible or unrealistic work schedules, physical danger (e.g. hazardous chemicals, risk of violence), poor physical working conditions (e.g. noise, vibration), lack of control over work activities especially if not given enough responsibility, lack of communication and consultation, lack of support, negative culture (e.g. a culture of blame when things go wrong, denial of potential problems), as well as non-work events (e.g. death, divorce, family illnesses).

Some ways of tackling these problems are:

  • Change the way jobs are done by moving people between jobs, giving individuals more responsibility, increasing the scope of the job, increasing the variety of tasks, giving a group of workers greater responsibility for effective performance of the group

  • Give warning of urgent or important jobs, prioritise tasks, cut out unnecessary work

  • Make sure individuals are matched to jobs, provide training for those who need it, increase the scope of jobs for those who are over-trained

  • Make sure everyone has clearly defined objectives and responsibilities linked to business objectives, and training on how everyone fits in

  • Provide training and support for those with responsibility of caring for others

  • Set up effective systems to prevent bullying and harassment and policies to make it clear how such occurrences will be dealt with.

  • See if there is scope for flexible work schedules (e.g. flexible working hours, working from home)

  • Provide opportunities for staff to contribute ideas, especially in planning and organising their own jobs

  • Introduce clear business objectives, good communication, and employee involvement

  • Provide as much support as possible for employees to help them deal with their personal problems
  • Training managers in interpersonal skills and stress management.

The main difficulty is that the stress threshold varies from person to person and for some people stress is helpful and they give their best when under pressure. The introduction of general practices described above needs to be buttressed by concern for people as individuals.

More details of all the above legal requirements and how they impact on the motor retail industry can be found in three excellent publications produced by the Health and Safety Executive.

The latter is a Government Agency responsible for giving advice and guidance on health and safety matters, drafting new legislation and enforcing the law. The three publications are:

  • Health and Safety in Motor Vehicle Repair HS (G) 67 1992 HSE Books

  • Health and Safety in Tyre and Exhaust Fitting Premises HS (G) 62 1991 HSE Books

  • 5 Steps to Risk Assessment: Case Studies HS (G) 183 1998 HSE Books

Author: Dennis Chapman, David Combes

Published: 21 Mar 2011


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