UK: Health and Safety

Workplace employees, home-workers and mothers
Last Updated: 8 October 2003
Article by Lara Crane

Originally published in June 2003

Health and safety legislation affects everyone at work – employers, employees, and the self-employed. Furthermore, directors and managers can be held personally responsible for failures to control health and safety. If you are found to be in breach of health and safety legislation you may also face a hefty fine. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA), places a duty on you to provide and maintain systems of work that are as far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health.

Inspectors from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)administer health and safety law, together with local authorities and, for certain matters, the fire authorities. HSE Inspectors are entitled to visit workplaces to ensure employers and employees are adhering to the rules. They want to know how health and safety is managed and, if they find something wrong, they may help the employer to put it right.

However, if there are serious breaches, or a failure by the organisation to comply with improvement or prohibition notices, HSE Inspectors can enforce the law and that can result in a criminal conviction or even plant closure.

Does all this concern you?

Yes. The HSE states that accidents, ill health and incidents are seldom random events and that they generally arise from failures of control by management.1 Some companies try to blame health and safety failures on the mistakes of front line workers. However, the HSE has also stated ‘over the last 20 years we have learnt much about the origins of human failure. We can now challenge the commonly held belief that incidents and accidents are the result of a human error by a worker in the front line …Organisations must recognise that they need to consider human factors as a distinct element which must be recognised, assessed and managed effectively in order to control risks ’.2

Must you do risk assessments?

All employers and self-employed people have to assess the risks from their work activities. If you employ five or more employees, you must record the significant findings of that risk assessment and you should also have a written health and safety policy. To comply with their statutory and common law obligations, you are required to train your employees in health and safety and, on some occasions, to consult your employees or their representatives on certain health and safety matters.

What applies to home-workers?

With the new right to request flexible working now in force, you may find that more of your employees work from home. Most of the regulations made under the HSWA apply to home-workers as well as to employees working at an employer ’s workplace.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require you to undertake a written assessment of the work activities carried out by a home-worker. You are also responsible for the equipment they supply; this includes electrical equipment and its maintenance. However, other parts of the home-worker ’s domestic electrical system will not be your responsibility.

If you provide the home worker with equipment to carry out the work, particular risks to consider include ensuring that:

  • the equipment is correct for the job that is being done
  • proper information and training is given on how to use the equipment
  • the equipment is checked regularly and kept in a condition that does not cause harm to the home-worker or others
  • any necessary personal protective equipment is provided

Are there special rules for new and expectant mothers?

With new maternity and paternity rights now a couple of months old, it is a good time for employers to focus on the special health and safety concerns that affect new and expectant mothers.

The health and safety of pregnant women can often be achieved by applying existing rules and procedures in the relevant areas. However, since pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding entail great physiological and psychological changes, conditions which may be considered acceptable in normal situations may no longer be so during these times.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 cover new and expectant mothers (that is a woman who is pregnant, who has given birth within the previous six months or who is breastfeeding).The sorts of hazards that you should consider are:

  • physical aspects of the work
  • biological and chemical agents
  • work processes
  • working conditions.

Many of these hazards are likely to have been covered by specific health and safety regulations.

You will need to keep these risk assessments for new or expectant mothers under review. When you have been told in writing that a worker is pregnant, has given birth within the previous six months or is breastfeeding, certain actions must be taken. As a general rule, you should first conduct a risk assessment. If this exposes any risks or hazards, you should then consider removing the hazard or to take steps to prevent the woman being exposed to it. Where this is not feasible, the risk of exposure should be controlled.

If, however there is still a significant risk to the safety or health of a new or expectant mother at her work (a risk which goes beyond the level to be expected outside the work place)then you must take the following further steps to remove her from the risk:

  • temporarily adjust her working conditions and/or hours of work

If it is not reasonable to do this, or it would not avoid the risk then you must:

  • offer her suitable alternative work if any is available

If that is not feasible then you must:

  • suspend her from work (give her leave on full pay)for as long as is necessary to protect her safety or health or that of her child.

You will also need to give additional special consideration to new or expectant mothers who work at night.


1 HSE Guidance -Successful Health and Safety Management [1997 ]
2 HSE Guidance -Reducing Error, Influencing Behaviour [1999 ]

© RadcliffesLeBrasseur

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.


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