A Little History
Accidents at work have been a feature of working life for centuries. In Victorian times, health and safety at work was of minimal concern and death and serious injury was commonplace.
It was only in the middle of the 20th Century that greater protection was offered to workers based on evolving legal principles worked out over the years and helped along by increasing government regulations.
The real revolution came just over 25 years ago with the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 which was designed to bring English law on accidents at work into line with that in the European Union.
In the period since then, there have been numerous sets of regulations introduced covering all sorts of trades and processes. The emphasis now is on proactivity on the employer’s part and the identification and management of risk. In other words, prevention is better than cure.
The employer must now review all aspects of his business and processes, identify the risks of accidents at work and then, if possible, eliminate them altogether or at least reduce them to the lowest practicable level.
Health and Safety Law
In 1993 came the so-called “Six-Pack” of regulations, one of which was updated on 29 December 1999.
Here is Farnworth Shaw’s guide to those regulations:
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1992
These are regulations that set the framework to prevent accidents at work by giving directions on the management of risk and the provision of information to employees.
The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992
These cover any process in a factory, office or shop. They cover things that are lifted, pushed or pulled. The job of the employer is, if possible, to avoid employees doing any manual handling at all. So, for example, they should look at automation, doing the job by mechanical means or altering the system altogether.
If it is not possible to do this then the risks should be assessed and minimised and the employer must keep written records of these investigations.
The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1992
These regulations cover virtually any tool or equipment with which you are provided to do your job.
The tool or equipment has to be the correct one for the job and must be properly maintained in a proper working order.
The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992
These Regulations apply to computer users and employers must make a full assessment of the risks to health and safety from the workstation. The risks to look for are poor posture, visual problems and stress.
If an employer fails to carry out proper risk assessments and ensure that risks to users of display screen equipment are minimised, he could be liable to pay compensation.
The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992
An employer must make sure that suitable personal protective equipment is provided to anyone who may be exposed to a risk to his or her health and safety whilst at work.
Once again, the employer must carry out an assessment as to whether such protective equipment is needed and whether it is suitable for the job. The equipment must be maintained in an efficient and working order and in good repair.
The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992
Any workplace has to be maintained in an efficient state, in an efficient working order and in good repair. So, for example, an employer needs to make sure that there aren’t any obstructions or substances left to cause a fall, work places must be properly ventilated, kept clean, properly lighted and at the right temperature.
The “Six-Pack” Regulations form the core of employers’ duties but there are many more covering specific industries and processes such as:
- Construction (including demolition)
- Handling hazardous substances such as chemicals, flammable liquids, asbestos and lead, for example
- Driving operations
- Working at height
Impact of Recent Reform
Since 2010, the government altered the law so a simple breach of these regulations doesn’t by itself support a claim. However, these regulations still apply and the existence of them is relevant to establish whether an employer has thought properly about safety and his failure to follow the guidance in them is evidence of fault which does support a claim.