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What is meant by an employer's 'duty of care'?

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This article from Pilz Automation Technology explains to machine builders, machine users and others, what is meant by the term 'duty of care' in relation to health and safety.

With so many new laws introduced during the UK's membership of the European Union, employers can become confused as to what their legal requirements are with regard to health and safety. However, by referring back to the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, and sections 2 to 9 in particular, many of these concerns can be addressed.

The Health and safety at Work Act 1974 is an enabling act. This means that other legislation, such as the Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations, and the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER 98) as amended, are introduced into UK law through the HSW Act, and add specific requirements to the aims of the HSW Act without having to change the Act itself.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 has five main aims:

  • To protect people at work
  • To protect people not at work from those who are
  • To ensure that explosive or highly flammable substances are stored, used and transported safely
  • To replace existing legislation
  • To remain up to date

Section 2 of the HSW Act deals with employers' duties, and states: "It shall be the duty of all employers to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health safety and welfare of all their employees whilst they are at work." To achieve this employers' need to:

  • Provide and maintain safe plant and equipment
  • Ensure safe use, handling storage and transportation of any articles substances and materials used during the course of their work
  • Ensure the health and safety of their employees by providing adequate information, instruction, training and supervision as required
  • Provide and maintain a safe working environment by the use of safe systems of work
  • Provide adequate welfare facilities such as toilets, first aid facilities and changing rooms, along with safe maintained access and egress

What is considered to be 'adequate information, instruction and training' will, of course, be dependent on the age and competency of the employees; for new processes or young/inexperienced employees, the supervision will need to be on a far more frequent basis than for established working procedures.

Section 2 continues by saying that if the company employs more than four people, the employer must have a written health and safety policy consisting of three parts:

  • Statement of intent – to include the aims and objectives for what will be achieved in terms of heath and safety for the company
  • An organisation chart – stating who is responsible for health and safety within the company
  • An arrangements section – to contain all the necessary procedures for compliance with the relevant laws affecting the company, eg risk assessment procedure, along with all risk assessments, a fire evacuation procedure, with relevant training records

Section 3 requires the employer to ensure that people not employed, but who could be affected by his operation, are not placed at risk. The general public, customers, visitors or contractors attending the site might need training or supervision to minimise the risk to their health and safety while on site, or relevant personal protective equipment (PPE), along with training on how to use it correctly, may need to be provided.

One of the common concerns employers have is 'What responsibility do my staff have with regards to health and safety?' Another is 'What can I do to stop staff from interfering with guard switches and safety devices that are fitted to protect them?'

These are dealt with in sections 7 and 8 of the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Section 7 states that employees must not endanger themselves, or others, by their acts or omissions. In addition, they must co-operate with their employers, as long as this co-operation does not lead to an increased risk to health and safety, or is an illegal act, so that the employer can comply with their statutory duties, thereby making the responsibility for safety a joint effort between employer and employee.

Section 8 states that no person (ie not just employees) shall knowingly, intentionally or recklessly misuse, abuse or interfere with anything provided in the interests of health and safety. Machine safeguards clearly fall under this section. It therefore follows that, should any member of staff be found to be interfering with these devices, and they have been provided with the necessary information, training and adequate supervision to use the machine correctly, disciplinary action should follow.

Finally, section 9 of the HSW Act requires the employer to provide, free of charge, personal protective equipment, or any other items, for the safety of employees, where it is required by law.

In conclusion, although employers might find the extent and different types of European law confusing and overwhelming, referring back to the Health and Safety at Work ACT 1974 enables them to establish a clear path to compliance.

Pilz offers an extensive range of training courses relating to machinery safety and the management of health and safety. In particular, the following courses cover the Health and Safety at Work Act: IOSH Managing Safely course incorporating machinery safety; City & Guilds 4-Day Machinery Safety Course; City & Guilds Machinery Safety for Managers; and City & Guilds Machinery Safety for Supervisors.

Another service from Pilz is competency management. Depending on the customer's requirements, Pilz can assist with designing, implementing and maintaining competency management systems to cover all levels of employees, from machine operatives to design and maintenance engineers, line managers and board directors. Competency management undoubtedly helps to improve compliance with health and safety legislation.

Use the form on this page to request a callback or more information about safety services from Pilz.

 
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