Accidents from slips, trips, and falls are the most common workplace accidents. What happens when accidents like these happen in the workplace? Who is responsible for safety in the workplace in the first instance?
If you run a business anywhere in Europe, you must comply with health and safety regulations set by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA). The rules are the same across EU countries, but they are often adapted to fit the national law of these states of nation.
But for those who work in a traditional office environment or hospitality, restaurant, catering or retail, how do you ensure you’re safe at work and that your employer is taking full responsibility?
Health and Safety Risk Assessments and Implementation
Article 153 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Uniongives EU countries the authority to adopt directives related to health and safety at work.
In the UK, for example, when an employer has over five employees, that employer must create a health and safety policy, according to the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. That policy states that where it’s reasonably possible, employers need to take measures to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of their employees.
In France, labour law is administered by the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Occupational Training. As well as the health and safety working conditions, the conditions of employment are also covered.
In Germany, the central Government is responsible for law making and the Governments of Lander for enforcement. Compensation and treatment of victims of workplace accidents and illness are the responsibility of the national industrial insurance associations to which all employers are required to belong to.
In the Netherlands, the Minister for Social Affairs and Employment is responsible for health, safety and welfare at work. The Working Conditions Act 1980 (but enforced in 1990) provides guidance for employers and employees on how to manage occupational health and safety. This includes having a written OHS policy or a risk inventory. The Act also gives the Inspectorate-SZW certain power - for example, to force the employer to stop the work.
Employers must conduct a risk assessment, and figure out what the risks of the work environment are. The risks must be documented along with notes on how the employer will ensure that the work environment is safe. So, for a restaurant, for example, providing slip-resistant flooring, slip-resistant mats, slip-resistant shoes, and safe clothing (i.e. clothing that won’t catch fire for chefs) will ensure safety.
On the other hand, employers must provide and maintain any safety equipment; they must provide a safe working environment; they must ensure that hazardous materials are used, stored, handled, and transported correctly and safely; and they must provide training on how to stay safe in the work environment, ensuring that all staff understand the instructions in their written health and safety policy and documented risk assessment.
Do You Have An Appointed Safety Manager?
Each workplace should have a team or specific person (depending on the size of the company or place of work) who is responsible for the health and safety at work. Employees should report any safety breaches to that person to get them remedied. For example, if equipment is broken or if conditions have become hazardous. It will then be that person’s duty to fix the problem, to cordon off the area until it can be remedied, or to come up with another solution.
In the EU, the Health and Safety Framework Directive requires employers to provide health and safety training for every employee and ensure that they informed of the regulations, whether current or upcoming, among other obligations.
In the UK, employers also have a legal duty under the Health and Safety Information for Employees Regulations (HSIER) to display a poster outlining British health and safety law. The poster must be prominently displayed, and approved.
If any employees think that their employer is exposing them to undue risks or isn’t carrying out legal responsibilities regarding health and safety, if the issue has been brought to the attention of the employer, and nothing has been done, the employee can make a formal complaint to the European Agency for Health and Safety at Work.
From an employer perspective, it’s much, much cheaper to consider ways to keep employees safe than it is to pay out compensation for injuries in which you (the employer) have been found negligent.
Once your employer has provided a safe work environment, each individual also has a personal responsibility to act responsibly and safely in that work environment. For example, it would not be a smart decision to grab a heavy item from the top of the pantry shelf using a chair with wheels. Employers do not have to protect against unforeseen circumstances, so if you have an accident at work that is your fault - where you yourself have been negligent about your own safety - from a legal perspective, your employer is no longer responsible.
How can employers protect their employees from slips, trips, and falls?
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