I have long had a ‘bee in my bonnet’ about section 7 of the Health & Safety at Work Act. Briefly, it states that an employee is personally responsible for his own health & safety and for those that may be affected by his work. It also states that an employee must co-operate with the employer in matters of health & safety and that he must not interfere with any safety related equipment. Most of you will find this repeated in your health & safety policies.

However, I have never seen this enforced. Whenever an investigation takes place, the blame is always placed firmly at the foot of the employer, even when it is obvious that the employee has blatantly disregarded his own safety. For example, if a man loses an eye whilst grinding when the company has provided a face shield, who is to blame? In such cases, invariably the employer is charged with breaches of the HSWA for no safe systems of work, no suitable and sufficient risk assessment, a lack of training, or a lack of adequate supervision. All of which may be true, but nothing is done about the idiot that endangered his own safety by not wearing the correct PPE.

If there was a provision to fine the individual for breaching section 7, how soon would we see a safer workplace? Employees would not want to risk a £500 fine for not wearing PPE, or not tying off a ladder so the workplace would immediately become safer. Unfortunately, I don’t think this will ever happen. It would cost far more to administer.

However, recently a worker on a building site was given a suspended jail sentence and fined £1400 plus £2940 in costs because he free-climbed up the outside of the scaffolding to a height of approximately 75 feet without a harness or any regard for his personal safety. A concerned office worker in the next building took a photograph and reported this to the HSE. The following investigation found that the site was correctly managed with the correct equipment, correct skilled scaffold erectors available and correct training and instruction in place. Consequently, the man himself was brought to task but I rather suspect that if the site was not managed so well, the employer would have paid the price and the worker would not have been punished.

Simpler Safety Ltd
7 North Street
South Kirkby
West Yorkshire

Call us on (01977) 808 500