Legal Article - Health & Safety

The Employer's General Duty of Care

The most important and broad ranging duty of care must be fulfilled by employers and is described under section 2(1) of the Act thus:

It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.

As well as a duty to employees, employers have responsibility towards certain non-employees such as visitors, contractors and also the general public. This duty may be in relation to their overall safety or more specific concerns such as safe access and egress or the information and training provided.

Other legislation addresses the health, safety and environmental risks, extending duties beyond protection of defined categories of person to focus on a work process, work procedures or the design of premises.

A range of regulations requires risk assessments, not only the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. Therefore, specific legal duties and requirements will need to be considered when risk assessments are completed. The employer is legally obliged to ensure that risk assessments are undertaken. While ultimate responsibility rests with the employer, the task of risk assessment is likely to be delegated.

The general duty of care which employers owe to their employees under s.2(1) is defined in more detail in s.2(2)(a) to (e) of the Act and includes:

(a) The provision and maintenance of plant and systems of work that are, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risk to health

(b) Arrangements for ensuring, so far as is reasonably practicable, safety and absence of risks to health in connection with the use, handling, storage and transport of articles and substances

(c) The provision of such information, instruction, training and supervision as is necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of employees

(d) The maintenance of any place of work under the employer's control in a condition that is safe and without risks to health and the provision and maintenance of means of access to and egress from it that are safe and without such risks, so far as is reasonably practicable

(e) The provision and maintenance of a working environment for employees that is, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe, without risks to health and adequate as regards facilities and arrangements for their welfare at work.

The Act tells employers (and others) about their legal obligations in terms of the standards which must be achieved and therefore, by implication, the standards which they must meet. The Act gives no technical guidance on these standards and gives it gives little by way of practical advice for employers, other than the five general items listed above from s.2(2). Indeed, the requirements under section 2(2) are only examples of the duties which must be fulfilled in order to ensure full compliance with section 2(1) and are not intended to be more important than any other health and safety standards or concerns. It is the general duty placed under section 2(1) which is the vital standard to be achieved.

The Act has been widely publicised as being based upon self-regulation and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSWR) provide employers with a strategy so as to comply with the general requirements of the Act and putting greater emphasis on risk assessment for each workplace hazard. The combination of these requirements equates to safety assurance, i.e.

• Self-assessment of risk The likelihood of harm and the probable consequences) and

• Self-regulation of risk control.

To fill in the practical implications of these requirements, employers must turn to regulations made under the Act and the associated Approved Codes of Practice and Guidance Notes. Much of this is freely available to employers via the HSE website.

Author: Ernie Taylor

Published: 19 Sep 2016

Edited: 19 Sep 2016

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