Q15. Who is responsible for safety in an organisation?

In general terms, national occupational safety and health (OSH) statute law (and legal precedents set under common law) places the responsibility for the health, safety and welfare of employees and other third parties on employers (the term 'employers' may relate to directors, boards of management or other defined legal entities, depending on the legal structure of the organisation). While it is recognised that employees also have defined duties under legislation, in terms of safety management which requires the leadership, commitment and resources to implement, in QUICK WIN SAFETY MANAGEMENT responsibility is viewed from the employer perspective.

The appointment of directors at board level with direct responsibility for OSH is now seen as a norm in many organisations, ensuring strong leadership, focus and consistency.[1]

In addition, many organisations now consider OSH in the context of corporate governance and integrate safety risk along with those more established business risk functions such as finance, recognising that significant lapses in OSH can have a substantial impact on reputation and a potential significant financial impact, too (for example, fines under the UK's Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act, 2007 are unlimited).

Various national OSH statute laws define the responsibilities of employers in different terms, but generally the aim is the same: "... that every employer shall ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety, health and welfare at work of their employees".

The Irish Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005 is typical of OSH legislation. Under this Act, the duties of employers can be summarised as:

• Managing and conducting work activities to ensure the safety[2]at work of employees and to prevent any improper conduct or behaviour likely to put the safety of employees at risk.

• The design, provision and maintenance of the place of work in a condition that is safe and without risk to health, has safe means of access to and egress from it, and that plant and machinery or any other articles are safe and without risk to health.

• Ensuring the safety and the prevention of risk to health at work of employees relating to the use of any article, substance, radiations and physical agents.

• Providing systems of work that are planned, organised, performed, maintained and revised as appropriate.

• Providing and maintaining facilities and arrangements for employee welfare.

• Providing the information, instruction, training and supervision necessary to ensure the safety of employees.

• Determining and implementing measures for the protection of the safety of employees when identifying hazards and carrying out a risk assessment and ensuring that the measures take account of changing circumstances and the general principles of prevention.

• Where risks cannot be eliminated or adequately controlled, providing and maintaining suitable protective clothing and equipment to ensure the safety of employees.

• Preparing and revising adequate plans and procedures to be followed and measures to be taken in the case of an emergency or serious and imminent danger.

• Reporting accidents and dangerous occurrences.

• Obtaining, where necessary, the services of a competent person to ensure the safety of employees.

Since employer responsibilities are well-defined and wide-ranging, some form of safety management system, such as the ILO-OSH 2001 model, needs to be in place to organise and manage these, as well as to manage risk in the workplace.

  • [1] Health and Safety Executive (2006). Health and Safety Responsibilities of Company Directors and Management Board Members: 2001, 2003 and 2005 surveys, Final Report, HSE Research Report 414, p.iii
  • [2] In this list of duties, the term 'safety' can be understood to mean safety, health and welfare
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