Hazards from work activities

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in the Pink Book, we regret that we cannot be responsible for any errors. The Pink Book contains general information about laws applicable to your business. The information is not advice, and should not be treated as such. Read our full disclaimer.

Key facts

  • All employers must consider the risks to staff arising from the hazards associated with work activities. A hazard is something with the potential to cause harm.
  • Any work equipment must be suitable for the job and safe, as required by the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.
  • If staff habitually use computers or other kinds of display screen equipment, the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 (as amended) apply.
  • If staff lift and carry objects, the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 (as amended) apply.
  • Under the Work at Height Regulations 2005 (as amended), employers are required to avoid work at height where possible, or, where it cannot be avoided, to take measures to ensure that the person working at height does not fall.
  • If you are an employer you must assess all hazardous substances.
  • These are the main regulations to be aware of, but other health and safety legislation may apply, depending on the work activity being done.

Work equipment

The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 cover the safety of work equipment (including an employee's own equipment and equipment used by a self-employed person, e.g. a self-employed cleaner who works on your premises.

The general duties of an employer include:

  • making sure that equipment is suitable - select the right equipment for the job
  • making sure equipment is properly installed and safe to operate
  • giving proper training and instructions on the use of the equipment and follow manufacturers' or suppliers' instructions
  • making sure that there are suitable health and safety measures, including protective devices and controls such as guards over moving parts, emergency stop devices, adequate means of isolation from sources of energy, clearly visible markings and warning devices
  • making sure equipment is maintained and in good repair through regular maintenance, inspection and, if appropriate, thorough examination
  • providing equipment that conforms to any relevant product safety standard.

Display screens

The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 apply where staff habitually use computers or other kinds of display screen equipment (also known as visual display units or VDUs) as part of their normal work.

Employers have to:

  • analyse workstations, and assess and reduce risks
  • ensure workstations meet minimum requirements set out in the regulations
  • plan VDU work so that staff have breaks or changes of activity
  • provide eye and eyesight tests for VDU users who request them, and provide spectacles if special ones are needed
  • provide health and safety training and information for VDU users.

Safe manual handling

More than a third of all 'over three day' injuries reported each year to HSE and local authorities are the result of manual handling. In the catering industry alone it is the second most common cause of injury.

As seen in the Safety management section, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require an employer to assess the risks in any work activity and take the appropriate precautions.

In addition, the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 require an employer to:

  • ensure, so far as it is reasonably practicable, that employees are not required to undertake any manual handling operations at work if there is a risk of them being injured
  • if any hazardous operations cannot be avoided, thoroughly assess the risks and take steps to minimise the risks of injury as far as reasonably practicable.

Work at height

Falls from a height account for around 30 fatalities each year and account for around a quarter of all worker deaths. One of the main causes is falls from ladders.

The regulations and types of work at height

Work at height means working where a person could fall and be injured. It therefore includes working at ground level next to a well or cellar opening, etc. There is no fixed height that is considered dangerous. This depends partly on where the person might land (e.g. on grass or concrete).

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 require employers to avoid work at height where possible, or, where it cannot be avoided, to take measures to ensure that the person working at height does not fall. There must be a risk assessment carried out before a person works at a height.

Light work of short duration may be carried out using ladders if conditions are suitable, there are adequate hand-holds and the ladder can be secured.

People involved in working at a height must be competent and adequately trained and supervised.

You must:

  • avoid work at height if you can
  • use equipment or take other measures to prevent a fall if you can't avoid work at height
  • as a last resort, if no more can be done to prevent a fall, take measures to minimise the consequences of a fall.

Window cleaning and painting are common reasons for working at height. Although very common, window cleaning using ladders has led to many deaths in the past. A ladder is not usually a safe way to clean first-floor windows and above. If you decide to have work done by a person standing on a ladder, you must ensure you have measures in place to prevent him or her from falling off, or the ladder from slipping. There are alternatives, such as:

  • water-fed hose cleaning
  • the installation of interior eye bolts by a specialist company, that enables windows to be cleaned using a harness.

Things to consider

To ascertain the risk of falling from height, consider these questions:

  • how far would a person fall?
  • are there adequate hand-holds?
  • are there any fragile surfaces (e.g. roof lights) involved?
  • where might the person land? (e.g. on grass, concrete, spiked railings)
  • what is the nature of the work to be done? (consider especially any leaning, stretching, or carrying that might increase the risk of falling)
  • is the ladder or other equipment secured, top and bottom, to prevent it slipping?

Falling off a ladder carries a significant risk of severe injury or death. Ladders are best regarded as a means of access and not as a place from which to do work.

Reducing risks from working at height

To help prevent falls from a height you should assess and reduce the risks to all your workers and ensure they are:

  • trained and have suitable and safe equipment for the task(s)
  • properly managed and supervised
  • provided with sufficient protection measures (e.g. suitable and sufficient personal protective equipment) while they are working at height.

Hazardous substances

Hazardous substances can generally be identified from the product label. In most small businesses only domestic cleaning materials will be used, but some products used for drain cleaning, pest control, gardening, cleaning pools or hot-tubs or other purposes may also be hazardous. For larger businesses, more concentrated commercial cleaning products are likely to be used and these will pose a greater hazard to staff and customers.

COSHH assessment

If you are an employer you must assess all hazardous substances under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH). The employer has a duty to remove employees' exposure to hazardous substances, e.g. powerful commercial cleaning agents or, where this is not possible, to adequately control it.

To help with the assessment, you may need to obtain a safety data sheet (SDS) from the supplier or manufacturer of the hazardous substance. (This will not be necessary for very common products like household bleach, for which plenty of information is readily available.) The SDS describes the substance and the dangers it may pose. You will only then be in a position to plan the measures that you will need to take to control the substance and prevent harm. It will usually be best to keep it in a secure location, especially if there are children on the premises.

COSHH Essentials

By logging on to COSHH Essentials on the Health and Safety Executive website you can carry out a free, quick and simple risk assessment (COSHH Essentials is also available in a paper version which you can buy from HSE Books).

You will need to enter some very basic information about the chemicals or products that you use and the system will automatically work out the correct control procedures for you. Alternatively, for some tasks such as cleaning, you can simply go directly to the control advice. 

Other legislation

The regulations already mentioned are the main ones to be aware of, but other health and safety legislation may apply, depending on the work activity.