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Change and health & safety law

Change and health and safety law

UK health and safety law places duties on employers and workers to promote and ensure health, safety and well-being at work.

Most of the responsibility lies with the employer but employees too have responsibilities and these come together in the context of the cooperation and collaboration that the law expects of people creating and working with danger.

In this section, we focus on the aspects of health and safety law that have specific relevance to organisational change. We start with the all-embracing Health and Safety at Work Act with its implied duties, then examine Regulations that were subsequently introduced to make these duties more explicit.

Health and Safety at Work Act 1974

Employers are responsible for protecting the health and safety of their staff and other people, such as contractors, customers and members of the public, who may be affected by their work.

To protect their workforce "every employer has a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees." This includes:

  • ensuring safe systems of work are set and followed;
  • giving workers the information, instruction, training and supervision necessary for their health and safety;
  • consulting workers on health and safety matters.

Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977

This law is intended to equip an organisation and its workforce to participate in promoting health and safety. It spells out employer duties to provide information and to consult; and empowers their recognised Trade Union 'safety reps' to have access to information and contact with the employer so they may cooperate.

Without this law it would be easy for an employer to withold information and use knowledge as a power base to subordinate the workforce.

By requiring worker consultation, employers must disclose information – including plans for change, such as proposed new technologies or new ways of working – so that the workforce can have a say in shaping that change.

Relevant duties are contained in SRSC Regulation 4A. This specifically requires employers to consult health and safety reps in certain circumstances, including:

  • prior to the introduction of any measure at the workplace which may substantially affect the health and safety of the employees the health and safety representatives concerned represent;
  • on the health and safety information they must provide under the 'Management Regulations' (see below) and
  • upon the health and safety consequences for employees of new technology that they plan to bring into the workplace. This covers the introduction of any new technology if there could be implications for employees' health and safety, and for the risks and hazards to which they are exposed (eg moving from paper-based to IT-based systems, or from office-based work to remote or home-working).

Your employer must consult in good time. Good time is not defined. However, it means allowing time before decisions are made for reps to receive, digest and understand the proposals, explain and consider them with your constituents and get back to your employer with an informed response.

A good employer will take note and discuss your response so that health and safety risk control measures are jointly developed and agreed. After all, they are then far more likely to be adopted and followed. This can take time!

Remember, SRSC Regulation 4(2) requires employers to allow 'health and safety reps' (not other lay reps) paid time as is necessary, during working hours, to perform their functions. In practice, this means that if you are a health and safety rep, you should carry out your role as part of your normal job and your employer should take account of this in your workload.

Key points:

  • It is essential that Prospect health and safety reps know this law and their rights to information – members depend on it.
  • It is worth making sure your employer knows their consultation duties. Ignorance is no excuse and may undermine the health and safety of you and your members and the proactivity of the Union.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

This is the law that requires risk assessments to be made. The regulations spell out a number of duties employers must meet to ensure that the workforce is suitably informed and trained about workplace risk and its control.

Key points:

  • Worker involvement - the risk assessment process should be practical and take account of the views of employees and their reps. So get involved and contribute your practical knowledge and experience. This includes where health surveillance is required: you and your members have the right to comment on the nature and proposed frequency of the health surveillance procedures;
  • Rights to information – you and your members should be told of any risks to health and safety identified by risk assessments, the associated preventive and protective measures and any emergency procedures, including who is in charge;
  • Rights to health and safety training – your employer is required to provide health and safety training during working hours to all new recruits and whenever staff are exposed to new or increased risks. For instance, because of a change of responsibility, new or revised systems of work or the introduction of new technologies or equipment.

Safety Critical Sectors

If your workplace is regulated under a permissioning regime, there will be specific risk assessment and management requirements associated with any change in work practices or provisions. The Health and Safety Executive's Human Factors teams provide extensive guidance. Click here for more.