Image from Flickr creative commons via Alan Cleaver
Health and Safety At Work laws don’t simply oblige employers to provide a safe working environment for their employees – they also place a duty on employees to report any conditions or practices where they work which they consider might contravene such laws.
That means that no employee should be afraid to raise their concerns. After all, the responsibility for ensuring that people can go about their day-to-day tasks without fear of being injured is best met by collaboration between workers and their bosses.
If you’re an employee and want to raise a concern about standards of safety, you are likely to have a couple of options, and the one which applies to you could well depend on the size of the organisation for which you work.
In a large company, there is an obligation to appoint a person to take charge of health and safety issues, and this person should be your first point of contact when you have a concern to raise. And no matter how senior they are, they have a legal duty to investigate your worries, then let you and all your colleagues know what they intend to do about the issue you have brought to their attention.
But the very fact that the person with such responsibility may also be the one who has direct authority over you might make you reluctant to raise your concerns for fear that you might be considered a ‘troublemaker’.
If this is a possibility, what you’ll need is evidence to back up your concerns. So rather than going in alone, a good idea is to tell as many of your colleagues as possible about your concerns, and ask them whether they’d be prepared to back you up.
In the absence of a nominated health and safety representative, in a medium-sized company, you should have someone with responsibility for administering first aid. This person might be a useful ally in you making your case, so have a quiet word with them, and see what they think about the situation with their ‘first-aider’s hat on’.
If you’re a trade union member, you should also speak to your workplace representative, as they will be prepared to support you when you make your representations to your bosses.
If you have little luck in getting your employer to change the unsafe working practice or conditions you complain about, you should first of all say that, if nothing is done you will report them to the local enforcement agency – in most cases the local city or county council, or unitary authority.
But at this stage, you may also want to approach a specialist solicitor, as they will be able to tell you more about the procedures for getting changes made which could help prevent an accident at work. Of course, it is always preferable to be able to do this without recourse to the law – but ultimately, the Health and Safety At Work Act is in place to ensure that everyone can enforce their right to go about their work in a place where the risks to them doing so safely are fully appreciated, and dangers are eliminated as far as possible.
A report of unsafe conditions or practices has to be taken seriously, so although the law is in place to back up anyone wishing to express concerns, a responsible employer will want to avoid any case getting that far, and so should investigate all issues thoroughly, and tell everyone what they do to address them.