An introduction to reporting hazards
The workplace can be dangerous and all employers are responsible for carrying out risk assessments to identify the measures that need to be taken to protect staff and visitors from hazards. The assessment should be recorded where there are more than five people in the organisation.
However, it’s not just your employer’s responsibility to find hazards in the workplace. Everyone has a part to play in reducing risks and it’s important to know what to do if you spot a hazard.
A risk assessment is the process of defining what hazards exist or might appear in the workplace.
It is your employer’s job to carry out risk assessments where you work, to find anything that could cause harm and to remove or minimise risks.
Some of the areas where you are likely to find hazards include electrical safety, fire safety, manual handling or hazardous substances. There are less obvious dangers too – your employer must consider things like the risk of repetitive strain injuries or work-related stress.
How UNISON helps – and how you can too
UNISON’s safety reps play an important role in checking workplaces and helping employers to reduce risks.
Workplaces become safer when many people are alert to potential hazards. If you spot something you think might be hazardous in your workplace, report it to your employer and safety rep straight away.
Your employer should then decide what harm the hazard could cause and take action to eliminate, prevent or reduce that harm.
What to do if your employer ignores you
If you have a concern about health and safety or if you are worried that your employer isn’t taking measures to minimise risk, contact your safety rep straight away.
Another useful source of information is the Health & Safety Executive, the UK watchdog for health and safety in the workplace.
Next steps for UNISON reps
If you are a safety rep, make sure you know about your responsibilities and rights under the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations (SRSC). You have the right to:
- investigate health and safety matters;
- be consulted;
- inspect the workplace;
- receive information, including risk assessments;
- take paid time off to perform your functions and undergo training.
- Your employer has a legal duty to carry out risk assessments and act on their findings. You can help by reporting any potential dangers. If your employer ignores you, you should speak to your UNISON safety rep.
- It is your employer’s responsibility to assess risks and take all reasonable steps to deal with them.
- Everyone in the workplace has a responsibility to look out for risks – and to report them.
- If your employer doesn’t take action to reduce risks, speak to your UNISON safety rep.
What is the ‘fee for intervention’ over health and safety inspections?
From October 2012, the Health and Safety Executive has charged employers a fee if an inspector has carried out an investigation and sees a breach of health and safety law serious enough to notify the employer in writing.
This is knows as a “fee for intervention”.
The fee is bases on how long the inspector had to spend on the inspection and on action to put it right.
The government argues that if there is a breach of health and safety law, it is right for employers to pay, rather than the public, and that this will encourage employers to comply with the law.
However, safety campaigners have raised fears that this:
- may mean employers concealing accidents to avoid a fee;
- may damage relationships between employers and HSE inspectors;
- may tempt employers to victimise workers who report breaches.
The fee applies to all businesses and organisations inspected by HSE, except for:
- self-employed people who don’t put others at risk by their work;
- those who are already paying fees to HSE for the work through other arrangements;
- those who deliberately work with certain biological agents.
If I operate heavy machinery or drive as part of my job and I am put on medication, what should I do?
If you have been advised that the medication could affect your driving or other work performance tell your employer straight away. Your employer should give you different, less risky work to do until you stop taking the medication.
I am worried that I will be in trouble with my employer if I report a hazard to my UNISON safety rep or a Health and Safety Executive officer. Can I be sacked for raising health and safety issues?
You are protected by law from suffering a detriment if you raise health and safety concerns with your employer or the enforcing authority.
The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 workers gives you a right to blow the whistle if there is a health and safety risk.
But the act is complicated: it is vital you seek advice from the union before making any disclosure.
For more information, see the UNISON Knowledge topic on whistleblowing.
If I report a hazard and my employer does nothing about it, what can I do?
Speak to your UNISON safety rep as soon as you can. The quicker you do so, the quicker the possible hazard can be addressed.
Where can I find out more about health and safety and risk assessment?
UNISON has produced guidance on risk assessments which you can download from this site.
You can also get information from the Health & Safety Executive website.