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Workplace health and safety

Protecting the health and safety of employees is a major concern for businesses – it creates a more productive workforce and helps to avoid costs such as sick pay and overtime cover.

As an employer you are legally obliged to identify and manage any health and safety risks in your workplace. Your insurer can help you to understand and manage these risks, and can pay out on claims if incidents do occur.

Employers’ legal obligations

Under civil law, organisations have a general duty of care towards their employees and people who they deal with in the course of their activities.

If someone is injured or their property is damaged as a result of an organisation’s activities, the injured person may be able to make a compensation claim against the organisation.

Under criminal law employers are required to protect their employees and others affected by their activities from injury, so far as is reasonably practicable. If they breach these requirements, employers can face criminal prosecution, fines and, in serious cases, imprisonment.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is the national regulator for work-related health and safety issues, and deals with breaches of criminal law.

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 sets out a new criminal offence for convicting an organisation where its activities lead to a gross breach of a duty of care which results in a person's death.

  • See the HSE website for more information on workplace health and safety. 

Insurance and health and safety

Insurers play a major role in helping organisations to protect against and manage health and safety risks by providing advice and guidance on assessing and managing risk, and incentivising good behaviour.  Insurers complement the regulatory system, but are not themselves regulators ­– they deal with civil, not criminal, liability.

Insurers have identified five key measures organisations can adopt to manage their health and safety risks effectively. These measures build on the HSE's regulations on the management of health and safety at work.

1. Ensure senior management's commitment to and leadership on health and safety

Organisations should adopt the principles of the HSE and the Institute of Directors' joint guidance on leading health and safety at work, which encourage senior management's leadership of, and worker involvement in, health and safety practices.

2. Obtain competent assistance

Organisations are required to appoint one (or more) competent people to assist them in complying with health and safety requirements. A person is regarded as competent if they have relevant and sufficient health and safety training, experience and knowledge. 

Depending on the size and nature of your organisation, your competent person may be an internal member of staff or an external consultant. Many organisations, such as small businesses and those in the voluntary sector, will be able to appoint an internal staff member as a competent person. If external consultants are required, they can be found through the Occupational Safety and Health Consultants Register.

See the HSE website for more information on appointing a competent person.  

3. Adopt a structured approach

Organisations are required to make appropriate arrangements to ensure the effective planning, controlling and review of any preventive and protective measures that are put in place.These arrangements must be recorded (usually as part of the health and safety policy) if the organisation has five or more employees. 

4. Complete suitable and sufficient risk assessments

Organisations are required to establish relevant performance standards for the control of specific risks. Suitable and sufficient risk assessments can determine the extent of compliance with health and safety law and associated guidance, identify any further measures that need to be implemented, and assist in the defence of claims.

5. Foster a positive culture

Once the relevant performance standards have been identified they need to be implemented and followed to successfully prevent accidents and disease. Competing demands between productivity and safety, employee perceptions of bureaucracy, and ineffective safety leadership all impact on the safety culture within an organisation. Organisations not only need to define arrangements to control the particular hazards they face, but must also get employees to agree that those arrangements are necessary and workable.

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