Who’s responsible for workplace health and safety?

Written on 22 November 2021

Whose job is it to ensure a safe workplace? The short answer is that everyone has a part to play – whether a business owner, manager or member of staff. Indeed, the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and other legislation provide that both employers and employees are responsible for health and safety, making it very much a collective effort.

Employers’ responsibilities

Most – but not all – of the legal responsibility falls on the employer. The following is a broad outline of employers’ main health and safety responsibilities.

As an employer, you’re required to protect the health, safety and welfare of your employees as well as others who might be affected by your business, such as contractors, visitors or the general public who are on or near your premises. They must be protected from anything that may cause harm. Risks to injury or health that could arise in the workplace must be effectively controlled by putting in place measures to reduce, control or eliminate them.

This means employers have to provide a safe place to work, as well as safe systems of work and safe equipment. The starting point is a risk assessment. “Suitable and sufficient” risk assessments must be carried out so as to address all the workplace risks that might cause harm and decide whether there are enough measures in place to protect people. Everyone who needs protecting from hazards must be identified, including staff members, contractors, part-time workers and people with specific requirements. Safety procedures have to be implemented by providing and maintaining anything required to keep people safe, such as equipment and training.

Employers aren’t required to eliminate all risks. However, they must do whatever is “reasonably practicable” to prevent “reasonably foreseeable” harm. The concept of reasonable practicability means that employers are only excused from taking steps to avoid or reduce a health and safety risk if either the:

  • Steps are technically impossible; or
  • The time, trouble or cost of taking them far outweighs the risk (in which case, other reasonably practicable steps should be considered).

“Reasonably foreseeable” risks are those which are reasonable person could anticipate based on their common knowledge, industry knowledge and expert knowledge.

In the case of a prosecution, it will be for the court to decide whether all reasonable measures in all the circumstances have been taken – so health and safety practices commonly found in reputable companies should be adopted. This can help provide a defence in law if challenged.

Information, instruction and training

Employers are also responsible for giving workers information about the risks present in the workplace and the measures in place to manage them. This will likely include providing instruction or training on how to deal with the risks involved in workers’ specific roles – employers are responsible for providing whatever information, instruction, training and supervision is necessary to ensure everyone works safely.

Under the Health and Safety Information for Employees Regulations 1989, employers must display the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) approved health and safety poster in a prominent position in each workplace or provide workers with a copy of the approved leaflet, “Health and Safety Law: What you need to know”.


Employees must be consulted on health and safety issues, either directly or through a safety representative. Workers are in the best position to understand the risks in their jobs – they should therefore be listened to and involved in decision-making.


Every business is required to create a health and safety policy to make their staff aware of the health and safety procedures in place, including fire safety and first aid*. The policy should set out how health and safety is managed, establish your aims and objectives, and outline specific responsibilities.

*Employers are additionally required to provide a first aid kit and first aiders who have received practical training.

Contractor control

Employers must also ensure hired contractors possess the appropriate competency, skill and knowledge, as well as providing them with the information necessary to conduct their work safely.

Competent person

To carry out their legal responsibilities, employers need to delegate responsibility for managing health and safety matters. In making the delegation work, effective systems for managing health and safety have to be in place. Employers must appoint at least one competent person to oversee, supervise and assist in all health and safety matters and to help the employer comply with all relevant legislation. If you don’t employ someone with the necessary training, experience and knowledge, WorkNest can help you to fulfil this requirement by becoming one of your competent persons.

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Employees’ responsibilities

Employees also bear some of the responsibility for maintaining a safe place of work. Under health and safety law, they have a responsibility to take reasonable care of their own health and safety, as well as that of others who may be affected by their actions at work. This essentially means they must not take unnecessary risks while at work.

Legislation states that employees are responsible for:

  • Co-operating with their employers on all health and safety matters
  • Complying with safety procedures, including anything in place to protect their safety, such as protective barriers, systems, equipment and wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) if their work requires it
  • Using equipment in accordance with training and instruction, i.e. never misusing any health and safety provided equipment, such as fire extinguishers and fire alarms
  • Attending health and safety training
  • Following their employer’s guidance and instruction on health and safety matters – working in a way that doesn’t create hazards or increase risk to themselves or others
  • Reporting any hazards promptly and appropriately – for example, if they discover faulty equipment or broken PPE, they should tell their supervisor straight away.

If workers think their employer is exposing them to risks or isn’t carrying out their own health and safety responsibilities, and if this has been pointed out but a satisfactory response hasn’t been received, then workers can make a complaint to the HSE.

On the other hand, if employees refuse or fail to comply with your health and safety measures, they may be subjected to disciplinary action, provided the measures are reasonable and the employee has been given clear instructions about what’s required of them. In serious cases, failure to comply with workplace health and safety measures may be an act of gross misconduct that could lead to dismissal.

A collective effort

Good health and safety management relies on employers and employees working together. While employees don’t have as many responsibilities, their role in preventing incidents is equally vital. Without employee involvement, it would be impossible to effectively implement an effective health and safety policy on the ground.

It’s essential that business owners, employers, managers, supervisors and employees all take the risk of injury or ill-health seriously, follow health and safety procedures, and play their part in preventing accidents and incidents. Prevention is about getting to the root of potential risks and removing them as best as we reasonably practicably can. It’s also about making sure staff are properly trained and equipped. All this is best achieved when employers engage with their workforce.

Unfortunately, many employers find that some workers have an apathetic and even negative attitude towards health and safety, thinking “it’s not my job”. To overcome this barrier, the concept of health and safety being everybody’s responsibility should actively be promoted and led from the top. This will help to establish a culture of everyone working together with the same goal: a safe, healthy workplace.

Meet your responsibilities confidently

If you would like expert guidance on applying the provisions of the Health and Safety at Work Act within your organisation, WorkNest H&S can help. 

From providing straightforward safety advice to conducting on-site audits, producing a tailored health and safety policy and enabling you to manage and monitor risk in real time through simple, secure software, our personalised fixed-fee service gives employers confidence that they are operating safely and compliantly. We can even offer one-off, project-based support and training to develop competence, culture and awareness across all levels of your organisation.

To discuss your specific needs, get in touch today on 0345 226 8393 or request your free consultation using the button below.

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