The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) dedicates this week (June 24-28, 2024) to raising awareness about avoidable workplace injuries. This coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA) 1974, a landmark piece of legislation promoting safer workplaces.

The HSWA’s Impact and Ongoing Need for Improvement

As a Personal Injury Solicitor with extensive experience in workplace accident and illness claims, I have a keen interest in assisting employees with their personal injury claims where they have been injured at work and affected by negligence. I’ve witnessed the HSWA’s positive impact. Improved health and safety practices have undoubtedly led to greater employee protection.

However, the personal injury claims I handle reveal there’s still room for improvement. A recent APIL survey suggests 30,000 people in the UK believe they experience workplace negligence each week. This highlights the need for continued vigilance, even though this number is not solely limited to avoidable workplace injuries but does include these within that number.

So what are the key principles of the HSW Act, the Display Screen Equipment Regulations (DSE), and the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations (PPE), and what do they set out to achieve?

Key Health and Safety Regulations and Employer Duties

Here are some crucial regulations and employer duties outlined in the HSWA and related legislation:

Adequate training and welfare provision by the HSWA

  • Ensures employees understand health and safety procedures relevant to their roles.
  • It provides a robust legal framework that can be enforced if not adhered to by an employer through the Health and Safety Executive.
  • Its aim is to protect employees from harm and hold employers accountable for their safety obligations.

Employers must conduct risk assessments under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations to identify whether there are any hazards causing injury or illness, decide how likely it is that an employee may be harmed or at risk, and take action once identified to either eliminate the hazard or reduce it to a level that would be reasonable.

Common Shortcomings in Employer Practices

Unfortunately, I’ve encountered instances where employers fail to conduct risk assessments or neglect to update them regularly. This negligence can have serious consequences.

Display Screen Equipment (DSE) Regulations

These regulations apply to employees who use computers, laptops, tablets, or smartphones for significant periods—one hour or more.

An employer must carry out a suitable DSE workstation assessment and reduce risks, including ensuring that appropriate breaks are taken and providing any appropriate equipment if needed, such as specialist keyboards, a mouse, wrist and hand rests.

This is why an employer often offers you a free or reclaimable eye test.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Regulations:

These regulations require employers to provide PPE (like gloves, masks, or overalls) when employees face significant risks from hazardous substances or contaminated air. Key employer duties include:

  • Risk assessment of such hazards.
  • Implementing measures to reduce risks (if possible).
  • Providing suitable PPE.
  • Maintaining and training employees on proper PPE use.

I’ve seen cases where employers failed to assess the risks of exposure to hazardous substances, leading to a lack of PPE and subsequent respiratory injuries. These were entirely avoidable accidents.

Mental Health in the Workplace

In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of mental health and well-being in the workplace. Both the HSWA and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations ensure there is a duty of care on employers to protect their employees from stress in the workplace and a requirement for an employer to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to the health and safety of their employees.

Employers have a duty to:

  • Protect employees from workplace stress.
  • Conduct risk assessments for potential mental health risks.