Health and safety at work

The conditions we work in can have a big impact on our health. Your employer has a duty to keep you safe and protect you from things that could damage your health. At one extreme, lax health and safety procedures at work can kill or seriously injure people. At the other, things like uncomfortable seating and computer screens can cause aches and pains, which make life miserable. You could be at risk from psychological illness as well as physical injury. For example, being over-stretched or bullied at work can lead to stress and depression. To avoid these things, both you and your employer should take action to make sure your workplace is a safe and comfortable place for you to be.

What your employer should do 

"I started getting really itchy red patches in between my fingers. My doctor said it was a skin condition called dermatitis and I probably got it from the cleaning products I was using at work." Jasmine, London

Everyone in a workplace has a right to work without putting their health at risk.It doesn’t matter if you are an employee, a worker, or anybody else. 

Your employer should do everything they reasonably can to protect you from any harm to your health while you are at work. What is reasonable will depend on the type of job you have. The employer is expected to provide safe premises, equipment, and colleagues to work with as far as reasonably practicable.

People who work in places like factories or building sites should be given proper training and safety equipment, as well as protective clothing such as, hard hats if appropriate. If you are sitting at a workstation all day, you should be in a chair that is comfortable, and have regular breaks from looking at a computer screen.

All workers should have access to a first aid kit and there should be an accessible emergency exit in case of a fire. There are lots more rules about working conditions, like the temperature of the office, hygiene standards, and access to drinking water and toilets. To find out more about these have a look at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website.

Duty to have a health and safety policy

Every business must have a health and safety policy. If there are more than 5 employees, the policy must be put in writing, explaining how health and safety will be managed and who is responsible for what. Your employer should identify what the dangers are at your work, how much risk you are at, and what they are doing to minimise the risk.

Your employer should communicate with you about any health and safety issues which arise at work, or if you have a trade union safety representative, then your employer will probably discuss these issues with them instead.

This is just one of our resources to help you understand your rights in the workplace. We also have help that explains whether you are a worker or employeepregnant employee rights, the law on minimum breaks between shifts and breaks during work, rights if you are sacked,  your rights to minimum wage including when employers can make deductions from paychecks, and rights to holiday pay.

How to stay safe at work

Follow safety procedures set down by your employer, for example, use any protective clothing you are given. If your work involves using machinery or complicated equipment, you should be given proper training about how to use them. Make sure you have understood health and safety instructions before you work with anything which could be dangerous.

Avoid mucking about or practical jokes which could go wrong, cause an accident and result in you facing disciplinary action or even dismissal!

If you are concerned about your safety or the safety of others at work then raise this with your manager. If you are treated badly for raising your concerns then you can bring a claim to the Employment Tribunal.

If you have been injured at work

Report it to your manager or safety representative. Make sure they record it in the accident book (all work places should have one).

If you feel it is serious enough, go and see your GP and explain how your work caused your injury. Your GP might say that you need treatment and maybe time off work to recover.

If you are losing out on wages or are unable to work for more than a few weeks you might be able to claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or Universal Credit. You may be entitled to Industrial Injury Benefit in the case of serious injury. You should speak to an experienced benefits adviser if you are in this position. See the benefits and tax credits section of the Advicenow's directory of advice.

If you are considering making a claim for compensation against your employer for personal injury because of an accident at work which was wholly or partly their fault, it is particularly important to make sure it is recorded in the accident book. 

You should take photos of the hazard if possible, and keep details of witnesses. You have three years to bring a claim, but you should get it investigated promptly. Get advice from a personal injury lawyer if you can - see the accident and injury section of Advicenow's directory of help with legal problems. See How to take a claim for personal injury. 

If your working conditions are affecting your health

If you feel that your health is suffering at work, try speaking to your manager about it. You might be able to solve the problem easily. If you have a safety representative at work you could speak to them too.

If your work is failing to sort out the problem, you should seek advice from someone with experience in this area about taking the matter further. This could be the Health and Safety Executive or an adviser at your local advice centre. 

You may be able to get compensation from your employer if your work has made you ill, or if you lost your job because of work-related health problems.

Special protection for under 18's, pregnant women and new mums

Employers have to be extra-careful about risks to under 18s. If you are in this age group, you are bound to have less experience of the workplace than older workers and will probably be less aware of risks. Your employer should not expose you to dangers you might not have the experience to cope with.

Pregnant women and new mums also need special treatment and any risk assessments should take this into account. For example, pregnant women should not be lifting heavy boxes or standing up all day. If you cannot do your usual work safely then your employer should find you suitable alternative work or place you on special leave on your usual pay until you are able to resume your work safely.

More information about health and safety

For more help see health and safety at work. We have hand-picked the best accurate information available about discrimination law in England and Wales available anywhere on the web, so that you don't have to.

September 2023
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