The Health and Safety Responsibilities of an Employee (Guide)
From all the research and studies available, and development over the past decade, it is clear that ‘health’ and ‘safety’ are no longer buzzwords and incidents and injuries are no longer perceived as the cost of doing business. At the core of successful organizations are effective health and safety practices that build a positive culture around the importance of employee well-being, which leads to efficient operations and productivity. Emphasis is often placed on the obligations and responsibilities of the employer; however, the truth is employees also have a significant role to play in upholding health and safety. While employee engagement is an integral component of enhancing safety practices, it is important for both employees and organizations to understand each individual employee’s responsibilities and the role they play to secure a safer, healthier, and thriving workplace.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
- What defines a safe work environment?
- Why are health and safety matters in the workplace a priority?
Employees have a duty to take care of their own health and safety and that of others who may be affected by their actions at work. Employees must cooperate with employers and co-workers to help everyone meet their legal requirements.
Under the 1960.10 standard – Employee responsibilities and rights, each employee in the U.S. must ensure they comply with the standards, rules, regulations, and orders issued by their employer within section 19 of the Act, Executive Order 12196. In addition to this, employees have the responsibility to ensure safety equipment, personal protective equipment, and other devices and procedures provided by an employer, and necessary for their protection, are used.
Employee engagement plays a crucial role in building a safety-oriented culture that employees feel encouraged to be a part of. By fostering open communication channels, conducting regular and robust safety training, and involving employees in the decision-making process for safety, organizations can empower their workforce to take ownership of their well-being.
Strategies to encourage employee responsibility can also encompass:
- Building a culture of recognition
- Implementing safety incentive programs
- Providing opportunities for growth and development
- Regularly seeking employee feedback
To explore these steps and more tips in detail, read Enhancing Safety Practices Through Employee Engagement.
According to the 2022 Workers’ Rights Index, Norway ranks as one of the countries with the least violation of workers’ rights, with Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany in very similar positions. Labor and employment laws exist to define and safeguard employees’ and workers’ essential statuses, rights, and privileges. Within this, there are various regulations in place to guarantee an employee is protected and has certain rights from their employer when it comes to workplace health and safety. These rights encompass access to relevant information, training, protective equipment, and the right to refuse unsafe working conditions without fear of retribution. These rights not only protect employees but also encourage active participation in maintaining safety standards.
If we consider the number of workplace fatalities as a dominant indicator of health and safety, figures from the International Labour Organization (ILO) highlight that the UK, Iceland, Bahrain, the Netherlands, and Finland are among the safest places to work. These countries have an occupational fatality rate of less than one death per 100,000 workers. While this is compelling, it’s important to recognize such figures do not always correlate to a lower number of incidents and injuries. Looking at the rate of workplace injuries, the data obtained from the ILO indicate countries such as the U.K., Japan, Denmark, and France have the lowest workplace injuries. Generally, health and safety tends to be strongly implemented in the European Union, the U.S., and Canada, more than anywhere else in the world.
In the U.S., the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) was passed to prevent workers from being killed or otherwise harmed at work. With this Act, Congress created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to ensure safe and healthy working conditions for workers by setting and enforcing standards and providing training, outreach, education, and assistance.
Federal law entitles employees to a safe workplace. Ultimately, regulations and laws are put in place to prevent serious incidents and protect the rights of employees. The employers must ensure an employee’s workplace is free of any known health and safety hazards. Employees have the right to speak up about any hazards without fear of retaliation. They also have the right to:
- Receive workplace safety and health training in a language they understand
- Work on machines that are safe
- Refuse to work in a situation in which they would be exposed to a hazard
- Receive required safety equipment, such as gloves or a harness and lifeline for falls
- Be protected from toxic chemicals
- Request an OSHA inspection, and speak to the inspector
- Report an injury or illness, and get copies of their medical records
- Review records of work-related injuries and illnesses
- See results of tests taken to find workplace hazards
Open lines of communication are vital for addressing safety concerns. Employees should be encouraged to report potential hazards or safety lapses promptly without fear of reprisal. Often, as the first point of contact, they may be exposed to a hazard the organization is not aware of. The ability for an employee to report such risks can prevent serious incidents.
The first step for any employee to raise a concern should be to approach their supervisor or direct manager and explain the situation clearly. There may be situations where an employee does not feel it is being addressed adequately. In these instances, an employee should have the ability to escalate their concerns to safety committees within the organization. If any concerns persist, employees in the U.S. can confidentially contact OSHA via the toll-free number 1-800-321-6742 (OSHA) or by email, or contact their nearest OSHA office. Similarly, employees in England, Scotland, and Wales can anonymously report these issues to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) by completing a form online or by calling 0300 003 1647.
Employees should be aware of the process and approach for raising safety concerns and have the confidence that they will be dealt with in a timely manner without fear of reprisal; a proactive approach to addressing concerns is integral to maintaining a secure work environment.
Workplace health and safety is a collaborative effort involving various stakeholders. It is a shared responsibility of both employers and employees. Organizations and employers have the primary duty to provide a secure environment and minimize potential risks and hazards, while employees contribute by complying with and adhering to guidelines. For instance, an organization must provide their staff with adequate personal protective equipment and training to utilize the products; the employee has the responsibility to ensure they are using it and following the instructions provided. Additionally, the regulatory bodies of each state and country play a significant role in setting and enforcing standards that ensure everyone’s well-being.
Personal protective equipment, commonly known as PPE, is a vital component of workplace safety. It includes gear like helmets, gloves, masks, and goggles which shield employees from potential hazards. With advancements in technology, organizations now have access to Smart PPE too, better known as wearable technology.
Employers and organizations have a duty of care to ensure that suitable PPE is provided to ‘employees’ who may be exposed to a risk to their health or safety while at work. If an employer is unsure whether PPE is needed, references that may help identify the requirement and provide information about proper PPE selection and usage can be found here. Personal protective equipment is addressed in specific OSHA standards for general industry, maritime, and construction. OSHA requires that many categories of personal protective equipment meet or be equivalent to standards developed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
In accordance with OSHA, in organizations where an employee requires PPE, the employer should ensure a PPE program is implemented. This program should address the hazards present; the selection, maintenance, and use of PPE; the training of employees; and monitoring of the program to ensure its ongoing effectiveness.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
For an employee to effectively contribute to a safe workplace, it’s important they understand what constitutes this. According to the HSE, a safe working environment must have well-maintained equipment, with no obstructions on floors and traffic routes, and windows that can be easily opened and cleaned. A healthy work environment must have a clean workplace with a reasonable working temperature, good ventilation, suitable lighting, and the right amount of space and seating. This is helpful; however, it’s vital to recognize that a safe work environment doesn’t just encompass physical obtrusions. A safe work environment is one where employees are protected from potential hazards and where the risks of incidents and accidents are minimized. This extends beyond physical obstructions and infrastructure and also encompasses factors like air quality, ergonomic setups, and psychological support to maintain mental and emotional well-being.
Prioritizing health and safety isn’t just a legal obligation or important to avoid losses linked to incidents or legal compliance. It’s an ethical responsibility that both organizations and employees should uphold. Making health and safety practice a priority in the workplace fosters a positive culture while improving employee motivation and increasing productivity. In research conducted by the Queen’s School of Business and by the Gallup organization, disengaged employees had 37% higher absenteeism, 49% more accidents and 60% more errors and defects. Studies by the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) also highlight that workers are more productive in workplaces that are committed to health and safety. Such figures like these underpin the need to prioritise health and safety. When employees feel protected, engaged and valued, they are likely to contribute to the overall success of an organization. Ensuring health and safety is a priority extends well beyond the legal implications; the true costs associated with inadequate resources and considerations should not be underestimated.
There is no doubt effective health and safety practice creates a strong foundation for a thriving work environment that nurtures and motivates employees, which, in turn, drives operational excellence and productivity. Employers have the primary responsibility to uphold the legal and moral obligation. However, it’s just as important that employees understand the role they play. Regardless of an organization’s size, the most successful health and safety protocols have the commitment and engagement of the employees. With rights comes responsibility. Employees have the responsibility to ensure they adhere to health and safety guidelines, raise any concerns and report any issues promptly. Ultimately, the joint effort around health and safety is to ensure each team member returns home safely after the end of each shift.