Steps to follow
If you’re worried that conditions at your workplace are a potential threat to your health and/ or safety, first of all explain your concerns to your employer, or your company’s safety representative if it has one. If there is an employee representative – such as a trade union official – it might be an idea to let them know too.
Your employer has a legal duty not to expose you to avoidable risks at work, and if you have highlighted possible dangers and they refuse to do anything to ease the problem you should contact the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) InfoLine (tel: 0845 345 0055; email: firstname.lastname@example.org) which will provide you with confidential information and advice about your next possible steps.
Your employer is obliged to kit you out in personal protective equipment (PPE) to you free of charge. You must use this correctly, and follow the training you’ve been given. Often, failing to use PPE properly can be grounds for disciplinary action or dismissal. However, you can refuse to wear PPE if it puts your safety at risk. Sikhs who wear turbans can legally refuse to wear head protection on religious grounds.
You should report any injuries, strains or illnesses you suffer as a result of doing your job or tell your employer if something crops up which could affect your ability to work (eg falling pregnant); your employer may need to change the way you work.
Although there are exceptions for certain types of professions, most workers over 18 are entitled under the Working Time Regulations to rest breaks during the working day, to have time off from work during the working week, and to have annual paid holiday. If you have to work more than six hours at a time, the rest break must be at least 20 minutes and must be somewhere in the middle of the working day. You are entitled to a break of at least 11 hours between working days. You are entitled to either: an uninterrupted 24 hours clear of work each week; an uninterrupted 48 hours clear each fortnight.
Even if you don’t work for a company but you think that someone who does work there is having their health and safety put at risk, you can directly contact their employer to raise your concerns with them.
Although employees have a responsibility to take reasonable care over their own health and safety at work, there is a legal duty imposed on your employer to undertake a health and safety risk assessment at your workplace. The aim of this is to highlight what equipment and systems need to be put in place to minimise risk to employees. Companies with more than 5 employees must have a formal health and safety policy, including arrangements to protect your health and safety. If don’t think your employer has carried out a risk assessment or that something has been missed, tell your employer. If they don’t deal with the problem, call the HSE Infoline.
Employers have a number of duties to keep the workplace safe including: ensuring it is properly lit, cleaned and ventilated; keeping it at a certain minimum temperature level (though there's no maximum limit); ensuring workrooms allow for at least 11 cubic metres per person.
You can report a problem to the body responsible for enforcing health and safety at your type of workplace. They can send inspectors to check out the problem and take steps to ensure the employer complies with their duties.
The HSE is the enforcing authority for factories; farms; building sites; nuclear installations; mines; schools and colleges; fairgrounds; gas, electricity and water systems; hospitals and nursing homes; central and local government premises; offshore installations.
Complaints about the following premises should be made to the environmental health department of your local authority: offices (not government offices); shops; hotels; restaurants; leisure premises; nurseries and playgroups; pubs and clubs; private museums; places of worship; sheltered accommodation and care homes.
After the enforcing authority has checked who is responsible for health and safety at your work and who might be affected by the source of the complaint, and what injury it might cause, a complaints officer will assess your complaint and place it into one of three categories.
Red classification means the risk is deemed serious and a complaints officer will follow it up within 24 hours of receipt (or it will be passed to an inspector for an on-site investigation); amber means the risk is significant Risk and a complaints officer will follow it up within 5 days of receipt; green is low risk and will not be followed up.
The enforcing authority may ask the employer to investigate a complaint or may look into it itself. It will then take steps to ensure that your employ is acting within the law.
What to watch out for
The HSE cannot help you get compensation or resolve problems of civil law – you’ll need to consult a solicitor about pursuing legal action if you feel either of these courses of action are necessary.
Solicitor’s top tip
If you report your employer to an enforcing authority, your employer is not allowed to discipline you or put you at a disadvantage in your job – for example, they can’t scupper your promotion prospects or not pay you for the time you refused to work because of unsafe conditions. If this does happen to you, consult a solicitor who will be able to advise you on taking your case to employment tribunal.
Overview of environmental, health and safety requirements
Overview of accidents at work
Injury of a member of staff at work
I want to make an insurance claim
Overview of employment rights
Do I need a lawyer? (personal)
Choices if you cannot afford a lawyer
Choosing a personal injury lawyer