Hazards in the workplace

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Key facts

  • All employers must consider the risks to staff arising from the hazards associated with aspects of the workplace. A hazard is something with the potential to cause harm.
  • The working environment must be suitable, at a reasonable temperature, have adequate lighting and ventilation and include sufficient rest facilities.
  • Employers should reduce the risk of slips, trips and falls by cleaning spillages, keeping walkways clear and organising work better.
  • All electrical systems in places of work must be maintained 'so far as is reasonably practicable' to avoid danger to all who use the premises (including guests).
  • Although Health and Safety can be a complex area of legislation, there are two main sets of regulations that you need to be aware of: the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 cover your employees' working environment, setting out the requirements in respect of:

  • the quality of the working environment (e.g. reasonable temperature, lighting and ventilation)
  • suitability of the environment (e.g. room dimensions, space, passageways and windows)
  • the facilities for your employees (e.g. toilets, washing and eating facilities, drinking water, changing and rest areas and rest facilities for pregnant women)
  • the maintenance and cleanliness of the workplace, equipment and facilities.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

The main requirement of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 is that employers must carry out risk assessments to eliminate or reduce risks. Employers with five or more employees need to record the significant findings of a risk assessment - it is not necessary to record risk assessments for trivial or insignificant risks. In addition, employers also need to:

  • make arrangements for implementing the health and safety measures identified as necessary by risk assessments
  • monitor and review those arrangements
  • appoint people with sufficient knowledge, skills, experience and training to help them to implement these arrangements
  • set up emergency procedures and provide information about them to employees
  • provide clear information supervision and training for employees and ensure that suitably competent people are appointed who are capable of carrying out the tasks entrusted to them
  • work together with any other employer(s) operating from the same workplace, sharing information on the risks that other staff may be exposed to, e.g. cleaning, catering or maintenance contractors
  • take particular account of risks to new and expectant mothers.

Use of safety glass

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 include the use of safety glass or materials in the workplace.

These regulations will not normally apply to self-catering accommodation unless someone works there, e.g. a cleaner. However, the General Product Safety Regulations 2005 could potentially be applied to self-catering businesses (see the Product Safety section) and could be taken to cover glass in doors, windows and elsewhere. Always be sure that the glass in your property is adequate for the use to which it is being put.

If there is a large pane of glass, especially if it extends to below waist height, you need to consider the risk of it being broken or walked into. If the circumstances lead to the conclusion that there is no risk, no action needs to be taken, but if there is a risk of it being broken it should be glazed with safety glass and also marked so that it is obviously present (e.g. with an etched design).

What glass is covered by the regulations?

It is not the case that the regulations apply to all glazing. In the past, a number of glaziers have misrepresented these regulations in attempts to persuade businesses to replace or modify all windows, glazed doors, walls or partitions. The actual requirement is as follows.

Windows and transparent or translucent doors, gates and walls

Every window or other transparent or translucent surface in a wall or partition, and every transparent or translucent surface in a door or gate shall, where necessary for reasons of health or safety:

  • be of safety material or be protected against breakage of the transparent or translucent material
  • be appropriately marked or incorporate features so as, in either case, to make it apparent.

General guidance to the regulations then adds that transparent or translucent surfaces in doors, gates, walls and partitions should be of a safety material or be adequately protected against breakage in the following cases:

  • in doors and gates, and door and gate side panels, where any part of the transparent or translucent surface is at shoulder level or below
  • in windows, walls and partitions, where any part of the transparent or translucent surface is at waist level or below, except in glasshouses where people there will be likely to be aware of the presence of glazing and avoid contact.

Safety glass or materials are only necessary in certain cases where a particular need or risk has been identified. Indeed, the chances are that it will already have been fitted as a matter of routine. Wholesale replacement of windows and glazed doors or partitions is not implied by the regulations. 

Slips and trips

Accidents as a result of a slip or trip are the most common cause of injuries at work. Resulting falls can be serious. They can happen in all kinds of businesses, but sectors such as the food and catering industry report a higher than average numbers of incidents and it is a particularly important subject if members of the public use your premises.

What are the chances of slips and trips at your workplace?

To identify problems and prevent accidents happening, consider the following questions:

  • do you have floors that are, or can become, slippery e.g. when wet?
  • does spillage or contamination occur and is it dealt with quickly?
  • do people use unlit areas, such as paths or yards, in the dark?
  • might temporary work such as maintenance or alterations take place? It could introduce slipping and tripping hazards, such as trailing cables.
  • do you use floor-cleaning materials anywhere?
  • are the right methods and materials being used?

Reducing risk

Effective solutions are often simple, cheap and lead to other benefits. You should ensure that you:

  • clean up spillages, organise work better, and keep walkways clear
  • 'design-in' safety equipment and materials
  • obtain help and advice, e.g. from the Health and Safety Executive, publications and guidance, or your local environmental health officer.

Electricity at work

The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 are wide-ranging. Accommodation operators should be aware of one objective in particular: that all electrical systems in places of work must be maintained 'so far as is reasonably practicable' to avoid danger to all who use the premises (including guests).

These regulations only apply to self-catering accommodation if you have one or more employees working on the premises. Of course your general duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act include ensuring that guests are protected from electrical hazards and these still apply to self-catering.

The safety of electrical equipment in self-catering accommodation is also covered in the 'Product safety' section.

Which electrical equipment is affected?

All electrical systems are covered by the regulations, whether they are used solely by:

  • you and your staff
  • you, your staff and guests
  • your guests.

'Electrical systems' means the mains wiring and all mains-powered electric equipment.

Electrical equipment brought in by guests is not affected by these regulations, which are restricted to matters within your control.

Testing and maintenance

There is no specific requirement for the regular routine testing of systems. Nevertheless, you do have a duty of maintenance under the regulations and regular testing is the only practical way for you to be sure that you are complying with this duty.

  • The fixed wiring installation should be tested every few years - exactly how often will depend on its age and the likelihood that it has been damaged. It is important to remember that whilst there are no specific rules requiring testing every so often, if you never have it tested you will most probably not be carrying out your general duties to ensure the safety of your guests.
  • You will often be able to tell from a quick visual inspection whether a piece of portable equipment is faulty or damaged. Regular visual inspection is the most important measure you can take. This will detect a large proportion of common faults such as damaged plugs, frayed or damaged cables, or cracks in a casing.

If you wish to have your electrical systems tested professionally, you should ensure that those doing the work are competent. This can be done by using electrical contractors who belong to either the Electrical Contractors' Association or to the National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting (NICEIC). However, portable appliance testing can be carried out by a trained, competent person who need not be a qualified electrician.

Records of testing and maintenance

Keep a record of all the testing and maintenance that has been carried out. In the event of an accident involving the electrical systems on your premises, this record should enable you to demonstrate that you have complied with your duty of maintenance under the regulations.

Cold callers

Health and safety legislation is an area that has been targeted by disreputable firms trying to sell products and services. Do not be intimidated by sales people who may be misrepresenting the regulations in an attempt to win your custom. Remember, in particular, that the regulations do not generally specify what materials you must use, what tests you should undertake or how often you should undertake them.