All workers are entitled to work in environments where risks to their health and safety are properly controlled. Under health and safety laws, the primary responsibility for this is down to employers. Gone are the days of the early industrial revolution when safety was either ignored or regarded as an incidental by-product of economic activity.
Now the safety of employees, contractors, sub-contractors and anybody else employed in a workplace is a mandatory and non-negotiable requirement. Workers are entitled to it, and all employers are duty and legally bound to take steps to ensure it.
Workers too have a duty of take care of their own health and safety and that of others who may be affected by their actions at work. They must co-operate with employers and co-workers to help everyone meet their legal requirements, and need to be aware of best practice.
However, the primary responsibility for safety lies with employers, and although legislative requirements vary from country to country, there are some broad precepts that apply.
Types of workplace hazards
Although work provides many economic and other benefits, a wide array of workplace hazards also present risks to the health and safety of people at work. These include physical factors, chemicals, biohazards, adverse ergonomic conditions, allergens and a variety of other threarts.
Physical hazards affect many people in the workplace. Occupational hearing loss, for example, is the most common work-related injury in the US. Falls are also a common cause of occupational injuries and fatalities, especially in construction, extraction, transportation, healthcare, and building cleaning and maintenance. Machines have moving parts, sharp edges, hot surfaces and other hazards with the potential to crush, burn, cut, shear, stab or otherwise strike or wound workers if used unsafely
Biohazards affect workers in many industries; influenza, for example, affects a broad population of workers. Outdoor workers, including farmers, landscapers, and construction workers, risk exposure to numerous biohazards, including animal bites and stings, urushiol from poisonous plants, and diseases transmitted through animal.
Dangerous chemicals can pose a chemical hazard in the workplace. There are many types of hazardous chemicals, including neurotoxins, immune agents, dermatologic agents, carcinogens, reproductive toxins, systemic toxins, asthmagens, pneumoconiotic agents, and sensitisers
And then there are the risks to the mental and emotional well-being of workers caused by stress, job insecurity, long work hours and a poor work-life balance.
Specific occupational safety and health risk factors vary depending on the specific sector and industry. Construction workers might be particularly at risk of falls, for instance, whereas a vet is susceptible to animal bites. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics identifies the fishing, aviation, lumber, metalworking, agriculture, mining and transportation industries as among some of the more dangerous for workers. Similarly, psychosocial risks, such as workplace violence, are more pronounced for certain occupational groups such as health care employees, police, correctional officers and teachers
Occupational Safety and Health
Occupational safety and health (OSH), also commonly referred to as occupational health and safety (OHS), occupational health or workplace health and safety (WHS), is a multidisciplinary field concerned with the safety, health, and welfare of people at work.
The goals of occupational safety and health programmes include fostering a safe and healthy work environment. OSH may also protect co-workers, family members, employers, customers, and many others who might be affected by the workplace environment.
In common-law jurisdictions, employers have a common law duty to take reasonable care of the safety of their employees. Statute law may, in addition, impose other general duties, introduce specific duties, and create government bodies with powers to regulate workplace safety issues: details of this vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
National legislation and public organisations
Occupational safety and health practice vary among nations with different approaches to legislation, regulation, enforcement, and incentives for compliance. For example, in the European Union, some member states promote OSH by providing public monies as subsidies, grants or financing, while others have created tax system incentives for OSH investments. A third group of EU member states has experimented with using workplace accident insurance premium discounts for companies or organisations with strong OSH records.
Because different countries take different approaches to ensuring occupational safety and health, areas of OSH need and focus also vary between countries and regions. The Institute of Occupational Medicine in the UK found that there is a need to put greater emphasis on work-related illness in the UK. In contrast, in Australia and the US, a major responsibility of the OHS professional is to keep company directors and managers aware of the issues that they face in regards to occupational health and safety principles and legislation.
Why paying attention to worker safety makes god business practice
A 2008 study of European companies found that nearly half of senior managers and company directors do not have an up-to-date understanding of their health and safety-related duties and responsibilities. However, not only are many companies ignoring their responsibilities under the law, they are also hurting their bottom-line, profit-wise.
In the UK alone, in 2016 31.2m working days were lost due to work-related illness and workplace injury. That is an enormous cost to business and productivity, and places undue financial burdens on employers and employees – non-contractual positions often do not offer sick pay.
Having good health and safety working practices in place delivers many business benefits. In reducing staff absence due to having effective control measures in place regarding illness or accidents at work, the business will benefit by saving time and costs associated with recruiting and training new members of staff.
More broadly, with good health and safety measures, staff can do their work more easily and safely, which also boosts morale, increases productivity and reduces costs.
Good health and safety performance helps a business to build a positive reputation with their clients and staff, and more broadly, with their friends and associates. This can help to increase sales and generate more leads.
Worker safety is primarily the responsibility of employers. They not only have a duty of care to provide a safe and healthy working environment for their employees, contractors, sub-contractors – and, in many cases non-related parties who may come into contact with their business, such as a member of the public entering their premises – but have legal responsibilities to do. Failure to comply with such legislation can have financial, civil, and, in some cases, criminal consequences, so it is important, if you are an employer, that you familiarise yourself with your responsibilities as a matter of urgency, and take any steps needed to comply with the requirements.
However, that does not absolve the individual worker from their own responsibilities to themselves and their co-workers when it comes to health and safety. They need to cooperate with employers and colleagues and follow training and accepted procedures when it comes to operating machinery, wear the requisite safety equipment, and take due care of their working conditions. As a spokesman for Opel/Vauxhall says “each of us owes it to ourselves and our co-workers to ensure we get home safe and sound at the end of the day”.