Employees' health and safety responsibilities
Employers have legal obligations to ensure a safe and healthy workplace. As an employee, you have rights, and you have responsibilities for your own wellbeing and that of your colleagues. This article explains what these responsibilities are, and how you can meet them.
Your rights as an employee to work in a safe and healthy environment are given to you by law, and generally can't be changed or removed by your employer. The most important rights are:
- as far as possible, to have any risks to your health and safety properly controlled
- to be provided, free of charge, with any personal protective and safety equipment
- if you have reasonable concerns about your safety, to stop work and leave your work area, without being disciplined
- to tell your employer about any health and safety concerns you have
- to get in touch with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or your local authority if your employer won't listen to your concerns, without being disciplined
- to have rest breaks during the working day, to have time off from work during the working week, and to have annual paid holiday
Your most important responsibilities as an employee are:
- to take reasonable care of your own health and safety
- if possible avoid wearing jewellery or loose clothing if operating machinery
- if you have long hair or wear a headscarf, make sure it's tucked out of the way (it could get caught in machinery)
- to take reasonable care not to put other people - fellow employees and members of the public - at risk by what you do or don't do in the course of your work
- to co-operate with your employer, making sure you get proper training and you understand and follow the company's health and safety policies
- not to interfere with or misuse anything that's been provided for your health, safety or welfare
- to report any injuries, strains or illnesses you suffer as a result of doing your job (your employer may need to change the way you work)
- to tell your employer if something happens that might affect your ability to work (eg becoming pregnant or suffering an injury). Because your employer has a legal responsibility for your health and safety, they may need to suspend you while they find a solution to the problem, but you will normally be paid if this happens
- if you drive or operate machinery, to tell your employer if you take medication that makes you drowsy - they should temporarily move you to another job if they have one for you to do.
Personal protective equipment
Your employer must provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to you free of charge. You must use this correctly, and follow the training and instruction you have been given.
In some jobs, failure to use PPE properly can be grounds for disciplinary action or even dismissal. However, you can refuse to wear PPE if it puts your safety at risk (eg PPE of the wrong size could put you at risk because of its poor fit). Ask your employer or the firm's safety representative for the right size (which must be provided free of charge).
Sikhs who wear turbans can legally refuse to wear head protection on religious grounds, but Sikhs who don't wear turbans must wear head protection.
If you have concerns about health and safety at work
You should first of all discuss your concerns with your employer or immediate boss. Your company may have a safety representative, who might be your first point of contact. If you have an employee representative, such as a trade union official, they may be able to help you.
Your employer must not expose you to avoidable risks at work, and if you have pointed out risks without getting an answer, you can get confidential information from the HSE's InfoLine.
As a last resort, you can get in touch with the authority responsible for enforcing health and safety in your workplace (either the HSE or your local authority).
Health and safety inspectors have powers to enforce the law. If you take this course of action, your employer must not discipline you or put you at a disadvantage in your job (eg by not paying you for the time you refused to work because of unsafe conditions, passing you over for promotion, etc).
Where to get help
You can get confidential information and advice on health and safety issues from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) InfoLine.
If you need further advice about your working hours the Pay and Work Rights helpline offers free and confidential on working time.
More useful links
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