Before we can answer this question, we must first understand the reasons why health and safety at work has become such a huge focus over the last decade.

The most obvious reason is due to the more stringent implementation of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, which states that organisations are responsible for the health and safety of their employees whilst at work. This was to ensure that those working could expect to do so without putting their lives at risk, whilst enhancing UK industry reputation throughout Europe and beyond.

Today, working environments continue to evolve as organisations strive to meet consumer demands and remain competitive. Industries are forced to develop to keep pace with both technology and the changes in operating hours necessary to meet consumer expectations. Alongside this, health and safety at work must also evolve to ensure business remain compliant both morally and legally.

Historically, the onus was on the business to ensure the environment their employees worked in was suitable and safe. In recent years, there has been an increase in employees being given the opportunity to train in Health and Safety, First Aid, Food safety, even extending to Safeguarding and Modern Slavery. The intent is to drive a greater awareness that Health and Safety is everyone’s responsibility and that all employees are empowered to take responsibility for their own safety at work, in addition to being given transferable skills, such as using first aid at home.

The ability to risk assess the environments we work in is one that requires understanding, awareness and the ability to predict possible situations that might occur in our working environment. For example, consideration must be given not just to the “normal” expected environment (e.g. too hot, too cold, or too noisy) but also to the changes that “could” reasonably happen to that environment, which might exacerbate the standard and make that environment hotter, colder or noisier. Employers must not only provide appropriate equipment or clothing to reduce the impact on their employees of the normal environment, but also put in place reasonable precautions and safeguards to counter possible changes that have been identified through risk assessment.

Health and safety must also look at the condition and regular maintenance of machinery that employees use in order to carry out their jobs. This can include anything from a laptop or computer, desktop assessments, through to industrial machines or vehicles. Employers are expected to ensure that all employees are given appropriate training in order to operate any machinery, and that the machinery itself is regularly inspected and maintained. In return, employees are expected to operate the machinery within the guidelines and ensure that they adhere to the procedures.

Businesses need to have in place an expertly trained person to ensure that all company policies and procedures are in accordance with the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and to implement the policies and procedures within the working environment that are designed to protect and prevent accidents from happening.

Environmental Health and Safety factors are considered stable, they will grow but often at a pace with business growth and maturity and as such are a manageable risk. It is the variable “human” factors that business must now increasingly start to factor within their risk assessments. Health and Safety was just traditionally about the physical risks, increasingly, factors such as the mental well-being of both employees and visitors are playing a major role in determining risk factors.

In today’s world, organisations must remain competitive and compliant, whilst keeping operating costs at the optimum level. Optimising costs is all about efficiency and this often means increasing pressure on employees to work both smarter and outside of the more traditional 9am to 5pm working hours. This drives an ever-increasing need for individuals to blend their work and life in a way that supports their lifestyle whilst growing their career options. This balancing act is not always achieved and as a result tiredness, stress and depression can evolve – alongside which is an increasing risk of mistakes being made which will sometimes have dramatic impacts on the likelihood of a Health and Safety risk occurring. Whilst the short-term benefits of driving changing working patterns may appeal to both employers and employee, health and safety asks us to look at the long-term effect that working conditions will have on employee’s mental well-being.

The Health and Safety Executive website shows that there were 526,000 workers in 2016/2017 suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety. According to the Labour Force Survey (2009/10-2011/12), the predominant cause of this is due to workload, mainly tight deadlines, pressure, too much work or responsibility. The industries with a higher than average level of work-related stress, depression and anxiety is: Human health and Social work activities, followed by Public administration and defence, then Education.

To conclude, there is always room for improvement in terms of organisations learning to recognise and understand the impact of the pressure they place on individual employees and the impact this might have on Health and Safety in the workplace. Organisations need to recognise sudden changes in behaviour and take appropriate steps to discuss, identify and support their employees. That being said, there is a responsibility for the employee to be open and discuss their well-being with their employers, so that they can be offered appropriate support. This may be through offering further training or adjusting workloads and deadlines.

Everyone has the right to feel safe and well within their place of work. But sadly, accidents do happen, and these are often preventable if the risks are assessed and properly mitigated.

If you ever find yourself in a situation where you feel your employer has not met the requirements of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, or you feel your mental well-being has suffered as a result of your working environment, you should always seek advice from a legal expert. There is also plenty of information and guidance available online at sites such as legalhelpline.co.uk to enable you to fully explore all of the options available with regards to making a claim for compensation.

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