Myth 1: “Health & safety? It’s just common sense”

Fact: Common sense is usually enough to keep us relatively safe in our day-to-day lives, but the hazards we face at work can be far trickier and the consequences more severe. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to undertake ‘suitable and sufficient’ assessments of the risks to the health and safety of employees whilst at work. A recent prosecution under these regulations occurred to a Coventry-based car parts manufacturer. An employee was crushed to death by steel containers because the company did not carry out sufficient risk assessments resulting in a total fine of £142,000.

Myth 2: “Complying with health & safety law costs me money”

Fact: There is a strong argument that investing in health and safety will actually save money in the long run. There are around 200 work-related deaths, almost 150,000 workers injured and two million cases of work-related ill health resulting in 30 million working days lost each year on average in the UK1. The costs associated with ill health and accidents, such as sick pay, fines, legal costs, and repairs, can be astronomical. Prospective clients are increasingly appointing only health and safety conscious contractors, a quality which also appeals to suppliers and insurers.

Myth 3: “I can’t be prosecuted for my staff suffering work-related stress”

Fact: Stress is considered a hazard, i.e. something that can cause harm. Failure to manage stress appropriately is a breach of an employer’s responsibility under the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974 to reasonably ensure the mental and physical health and safety of employees. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 also require employers to assess the risk of stress-related ill health arising from work activities. Psychological as well as physical capabilities must be assessed in relation to tasks, with suitable training provided. The Health and Safety Executive takes stress very seriously and now regularly asks companies for a copy of their written stress risk assessment.

Myth 4: “Health & safety law prohibits my staff from working alone”

Fact: Working alone is acceptable as long as special arrangements have been made for safety in relation to the types of hazard involved. This may include emergency first aid arrangements or assessing the danger associated with tasks. Precautions may include emergency panic buttons or two-way radios. As long as a safe system of work is implemented, there is no reason why lone working would be unacceptable.

Myth 5: “Health & safety compliance is solely down to me the employer”

Fact: Employers have a ‘duty of care’ to all employees to take reasonable action to keep them safe, well and comfortable. However, employees also have a duty to work safely and co-operate with health and safety procedures. Employers must ensure employees are clearly informed of these responsibilities.