Frequently asked questions - Worker rights and responsibilities

A. You have lots of legal rights. For example, under the Health and Safety at Work Act your employer must provide you with or ensure:

  • Safe plant and systems of work
  • Safe use, handling, transport and storage of substances and articles
  • Adequate information, training, instruction and supervision
  • Safe place of work, access and egress (exit) to and from it
  • A safe working environment with adequate welfare facilities
  • A written Safety Policy with organizational and other arrangements (if there are five or more employees)

No. Under the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations..."every employer shall ensure that suitable personal protective equipment is provided to their employees who may be exposed to risks to their health and safety except where it has been adequately or 

effectively controlled by other means.”

In other words the employer must provide you with suitable personal protective equipment. They should not be asking you to pay for it. If suitable safety shoes are the most effective way of protecting you, your employer should pay for them.

The organisation you can complain to depends on the type of workplace or industry you work in.

The two main enforcement agencies are the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Environmental Health Department (EHO) of your local Council. 

There are others. For more information, go to www.hse.gov.uk

Making a complaint

To make a complaint to HSE about a health and safety risk, you can email cat@hse.gsi.gov.uk or call 0300 003 1647 in office hours.

The West Midlands HSE's phone no is 0121 607 6349, and the EHO is contacted via the local authority's Environmental Health Dept in your area.

However, The HSE and EHOs have seen cuts in terms of Government financial support over a long period of time, leading to job cuts and increasing the amount of time you may have to wait for a response.

Do emphasise, preferably in writing, that you do not want your name mentioned, if that is what you want.

The HSE website also explains how to make a complaint if you are not satisfied with their service.

Complaining via your union

Your best chances, however, of changing the way safety (or indeed, anything else) is handled in a workplace is through a trade union

So raise your question with your union rep first if you have one at work.

Join a TUC (Trades Union Congress) affiliated Trade Union and organising to make sure that your employer recognises it for collective bargaining at the workplace.

If you and your fellow workers join and persuade your management to recognise the Union, you can legally elect trade union safety reps at your workplace.

Then this triggers a further set of legal rights for the safety reps under the Safety Reps and Safety Committees Regulations including:

  • The right to take up safety and health issues on behalf of members
  • Paid time off for Health and Safety training
  • Attending a Safety Committee, which must be set up if two or more safety reps request it
  • Consultation on H&S matters, including proposed changes
  • Enough facilities and help from the employer to do the job properly

Note too that safety reps don't have legal duties and therefore have no more legal liability than any other employee for safety breaches. It's the employer who has the legal duties for your health and safety.

 

A TUC report says that the 150,000 trade union safety representatives make a real difference, because trade union involvement:

  • Helps reduce injuries at work
  • Leads to reductions in the levels of ill-health caused by work
  • Encourages greater reporting of injuries and near-misses
  • Makes workers more confident
  • Helps develop a more positive safety culture in the organisation
  • Saves the economy many millions of pounds

Amongst the wealth of evidence for this, research has shown:

  • companies with union safety committees had half the injury rate of companies without unions or joint arrangements
  • highest injury rates are found where management deals with Occupational Health & Safety without consultation
  • rates of ill-health have also improved where there is a union

WorkSmart has, amongst other things, a Find a Union service which lists which union covers particular industries.

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act (Section 7) employees have two main duties -

  • to take reasonable care for the health and safety of themselves and others who may be affected by their acts and omissions
  • To co-operate with the employer and others to enable them to fulfil their legal obligations

 Also, under the Health and Safety at Work Act (Section 8)

  • No person may misuse or interfere with safety provisions. (Known as the “No Horseplay section)

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) publish a poster on what your rights and duties are which should be prominently displayed at your workplace.

Rights and duties

It is a legal duty that your employer must display this. For details, go to www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/books/lawposter.htm

In general, your role is to help to make sure that you and your fellow workers leave work every day in a safe and healthy condition – not in an ambulance, or in a heavily-stressed condition, or with the increased risk of contracting a work-related disease or condition. 

Safety rep

The best way to do this is if you and fellow workers elect a safety rep, whose role is to get the employer to fulfil their legal obligations to make that happen - the employer has the responsibility and duty for all of that.

“The achievement of good health & safety standards at work is and should be a basic human right for workers and makes good economic sense for the organisation you work for.” (International Labour Organisation).

Useful links

TUC (Trades Union Congress):
ww.tuc.org.uk for info on TU issues, including safety

Hazards Magazine:
www.hazards.org for info on work hazards, from a rights perspective

WorkSmart:
ww.worksmart.org.uk for help for working people, including which trade union to join

Unionlearn:
ww.unionlearn.org.uk for trade union training, including safety

The TUC Working in the UK guide is available in 13 different languages including Polish, Rumanian and English, with basic info on employment rights, health and safety, and related topics like sick pay and trade unions. It offers links to further info and explains when they are available in other languages e.g. the ACAS HELPLINE can be accessed in different languages. Migrant workers and anyone new to the world of work in the UK, like school-leavers, will find it very useful.