Health and safety responsibilities in the workplace and how to communicate them

As an employer, you have a duty to provide a healthy and safe environment for your employees. This is a legal requirement but also an ethical obligation and, quite simply, good practice, which can have all kinds of indirect benefits such as improved morale, better staff retention and the avoidance of bad publicity.


The basics of health and safety in the workplace


There are, essentially, two aspects to creating an environment which promotes health and safety. One is the necessity of designing a workplace which eliminates, or at least minimizes, hazards and the other is the necessity of providing employees with the resources they need to protect themselves.


These resources may be either physical items, such as protective equipment, or relevant information. In many situations, even offices, there will be a need for both.


The mandatory health and safety poster


Even in the year 2019, health and safety laws mandate that all employers prominently display a poster containing key health-and-safety information. While this may seem antiquated, it does mean that employees should, in principle, always be able to see this information even during power cuts (assuming the building is only open during the day and/or there is emergency lighting) and certainly during network outages.


Having said that, there is absolutely nothing to stop employers displaying relevant health-and-safety information by other means as well, for example via a company intranet site. In some cases, employees are potentially going to be far more likely to look at this than to look at a poster, even if it is displayed in a high-traffic location.


The need to communicate processes


The law also requires that employers with five or more employees put their health-and-safety policies in writing, although in this case the term “in writing” extends to digital format, which, these days, is often the most sensible approach, at least in office environments.


This is one situation where it is still advisable to keep hard copies of the relevant documentation and anything needed to support it, for example, incident-reporting forms (and the pens with which to complete them).


These can then be displayed in prominent places so they can always be consulted in case of need, regardless of what the electricity and/or internet is doing.


The need to inform staff of relevant practicalities


As previously mentioned, part of an employer’s duty of care is making sure that staff are provided with necessary protective equipment. This can be anything from first aid kits, to gloves and helmets, to fire-fighting equipment and, if you stretch the definition to its utmost, could even include features such as fire doors.


All of these can, literally, save lives, but they are only of use if people know both where they are and how to operate them. Appropriately labelling the items and/or their containers is a good start, but unless your workplace is very small and all resources are clearly visible, it is strongly recommended to provide documentation “mapping out” where they are to be found.


Again, this documentation can be in paper or digital form (or both).


Assuring all staff are adequately trained


Employers do not necessarily have to train all employees themselves. It may, however, be both reasonable and practical to make it a policy only to hire employees who are already in possession of certain, industry-standard qualifications.


It is, however, likely that most employers are going to need to organize some health and safety training themselves. This could involve using external providers or developing solutions to use in-house.One worry that employers have about health and safety training and awareness is that employees won’t engage fully. However, ‘health and safety has, at least to a large extent, solved this problem’, says David Rowland, the head of marketing Engage EHS. This is because the process is much more social and, if you must, you can measure your employees’ engagement in the process.


The use of digital signage


As a quick, closing point, it’s worth noting that the provision of information online does not necessarily depend on staff having access to computers or tablets. Digital signage can be used to provide self-service help points without the need for staff to have individual devices or even personal-level network access.


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