Incidents in the workplace are, unfortunately, common and disputes can often arise over who is at fault. It is essential for employers to give careful consideration to health and safety regulations and policies to avoid any unwanted claims or disputes emerging. In this article, our insurance, health and injury partner Cordelia Rushby outlines the health and safety areas employers need to prioritise in 2024.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recently published its annual statistics. Of the 1.8 million people suffering from a work-related illness in 2022–2023, approximately half (875,000) reported suffering from work-related stress, depression, or anxiety. This highlights how mental health in the workplace must be a priority for employers during 2024.
Is a duty of care owed to employees in relation to mental health?
Yes. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 sets out the general duties of employers, employees and others in relation to health and safety in the workplace.
Employers have a duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of every employee “in so far as is reasonably practicable”. This duty requires employers to safeguard the physical and mental health of workers and covers all employees, including homeworkers.
How should an organisation manage work-related stress?
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (MHSWR) requires an employer to carry out risk assessments relating to known risks.
Employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work by doing a risk assessment and acting on it. Where an employer has five or more workers the risk assessment must be written down.
The HSE website provides a risk assessment template. The risk assessment should be an active document that identifies the significant risks and the mitigation measures you have (or will) put in place to address and reduce the risks. The aim is for it to be a useful practical tool.
How do I get started?
When considering your approach to the management of work-related stress, you should apply the HSE’s “Management Standards” for managing mental health in the workplace.
These management standards guide an organisation to ensure that it:
- Demonstrates good practice through a step-by-step risk assessment approach
- Has undertaken a proper assessment of the current situation using existing data surveys and other techniques
- Promotes a partnership approach with active discussion between employees and staff to reach agreement on practical improvements that can be made
- Has prepared a risk assessment which identifies the main risk factors, focuses on underlying causes and prevention, and establishes a baseline from which the organisation can gauge its performance in tackling the key causes of stress.
The Management Standards identifies six areas of work design which can impact stress levels:
- Demands: this includes workload, work patterns and the work environment
- Control: how much say an employee has in the way they do their work
- Support: what encouragement, sponsorship and resources are provided by the organisation, line managers and colleagues
- Relationships: the importance of promoting positive working to avoid conflict and putting systems in place to deal with unacceptable behaviour
- Role: whether people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures that conflicting roles are avoided
- Change: how organisational change is managed and communicated within the organisation.
Many believe that asbestos exposure is a thing of the past because building practices have now improved and moved on. However, asbestos was used extensively in buildings constructed, adapted and renovated between 1950 and 1980 when its use in construction was at its peak. Asbestos was not actually completely banned until 1999. It is therefore still incorporated into the fabric of many buildings including museums, schools, hospitals, places of worship, offices, and factories. As a result, there is an ongoing risk of new exposures if organisations responsible for such a premises are not fully aware of their duties to manage asbestos and actively work to comply with these duties, including having in place an Asbestos Management Plan.
Asbestos exposure in Great Britain is still the single greatest cause of work-related deaths due to exposure decades ago.
The HSE therefore launched a new campaign on 15 January 2024 to keep people safe from asbestos exposure.
Does this apply to me?
People who have a legal duty (“duty holders”) to manage Asbestos in a building include:
- The building owner
- The landlord of the premises
- The person or organisation with clear responsibility for maintenance or repair of the building.
These duty holders must protect people from the risk of exposure to asbestos including those who work in their building or use them in other ways – for example, visitors or workmen.
Businesses and organisations responsible for premises built before 2000 and especially between 1950 and 1980 must carry out the necessary checks and understand their responsibilities.
Provided that the appropriate checks have been carried out and an Asbestos Management Plan implemented, then asbestos exposure can be contained and people can work safely in those buildings.
Asbestos becomes dangerous when it is disturbed or damaged and it is essential therefore that its location in a building is identified and all those who could be responsible for commissioning or carrying out work are fully aware of its location and the appropriate strategies are put in place when working in that area.
As a result of this being a new focus for the HSE, when they carry out inspections of buildings they will be specifically looking to see how asbestos is managed. You could be subject to improvement or prohibition notices, prosecution and fines if you have failed to comply with your legal duties.
If you would like assistance with establishing a management plan or risk assessments in connection with any of the issues raised in this article, please contact Cordelia Rushby.
This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. It should not be used as a substitute for legal advice relating to your particular circumstances. Please note that the law may have changed since the date of this article.