What are an employer’s responsibilities regarding worker safety?

Workplace accidents are a serious matter, and unfortunately common: the Labour Force Survey found that around 441,000 injuries occurred at work in the 2020-21 period, while the HSE confirmed 142 deaths. Work environments can be supremely hazardous, and without the right framework for worker protection, people can get seriously injured.

The legal requirements of an employer towards their employees are multifarious, and especially so regarding worker safety for the above reasons. Employee safety is not an area where companies should have high risk appetites. What follows are some of the chief responsibilities an employer has to its staff when it comes to health and safety law.

Assessment and control of risk

First and foremost, it is incumbent on the employer to comprehensively assess the risks inherent to their workplace environment and to make adequate provisions for the safety of workers in said environment. This is achieved by various means, but a central aspect of the process is the carrying out of robust risk assessments. Risk assessments identify specific and discrete risks in the workplace and provide guidance on precautions and approaches that could mitigate those risks. No workplace environment is risk-free, but effective mitigation strategies could turn down risk to an acceptable level.

Preventive measures are definitively safer, but there are situations in which risk is unavoidable. As such, workers should have access to personal protective equipment, or PPE, to minimise the risk of injury when engaging with risk. Such PPE commonly takes the form of work gloves for handling heavy or sharp objects, or ear defenders for hearing protection in excessively loud spaces.

Training and development

Not only must an employer provide adequate PPE to workers, but they must also provide adequate training in its use. On a wider note, it is also required for an employer to provide training in the correct health and safety procedures for tasks and activities, from the handling of dangerous materials to the safe conducting of regular tasks.

Training is an essential tool for ensuring workplace safety, as a best practices can be taught to all workers – providing no discrepancies in response to dangerous situations, and ensuring a predictable working environment with structure and clarity at its core.

Prominent Display of Health and Safety Information

Training is not enough to ensure adequate protection via health and safety procedures. This is because training does not account for the arrival of new employees between training sessions, or for the arrival of visitors new to the site. As such, other measures must be taken, such as the prominent display of relevant health and safety information around the premises.

Welfare facilities

Another key provision employers must make for worker safety relates to workplace facilities. These facilities must include an adequate number of toilets and sinks for the staff cohort on-premises, and a designated rest area where workers can sit, eat and drink. It is not incumbent on the employer to provide amenities past running water, but the provision of hot drinks and snacks can ensure increased restfulness and hence safety for workers.