Working environment: an introduction
Your working environment is affected by factors including health and safety, security and working hours. A poor working environment can damage your health and put your safety at risk.
Your employer is legally responsible for ensuring good working conditions, but you also have a responsibility to work safely .
Health and safety
The Workplace Health, Safety and Welfare Regulations – which became law in 1993 – lay down minimum standards for workplaces and work in or near buildings.
These regulations apply to most types of workplace except transport, construction sites and domestic premises. Workplaces must be suitable for all who work in them, including workers with any kind of disability.
You have the right to a safe and healthy workplace which is suitable for all who work in or visit them. This means that your employer must look at issues such as space, cleanliness, lighting and ventilation and adequate toilet, washing and changing facilities.
Workplace dangers are not always obvious but paying attention to these issues and those related to areas such as emergency lighting, suitable floors, safe traffic routes, windows and doors will help to achieve this.
Working practices and conditions that seem harmless can eventually lead to serious illness.
Employers’ duties and those of controllers of premises
Employers and controllers of non domestic premises have a general duty to make sure that the workplace meets certain conditions.
- Maintenance: make sure the workplace, equipment, devices and systems are maintained, in working order and in good repair.
- Ventilation: make sure enclosed workplaces are ventilated and have enough fresh and purified air.
- Temperature: maintain a reasonable temperature inside building during working hours. Enough thermometers must be provided.
- Lighting: must be suitable and efficient and natural so far is reasonably practical. Emergency lighting must be provided where lighting failure would cause danger.
- Cleanliness: keep workplaces and furnishings clean. Waste materials must not accumulate, except in suitable containers.
- Space: make sure workrooms have enough floor area, height and unoccupied space.
- Workstations: must be suitable for the worker and work. A suitable seat must be provided where necessary.
- Floors: must be suitable and not uneven or slippery, presenting a safety risk. They must be kept free from obstructions likely to cause a slip, trip or fall. Handrails must be provided on staircases, except where they would obstruct traffic.
- Falls: take suitable and sufficient measures to prevent people falling or being struck by falling objects. Tanks must be securely covered and fenced where there is a risk of a person falling into a dangerous substance.
- Windows: make sure that windows, and transparent and translucent surfaces, consist of safe material, are clearly marked, and safe when open.
- Traffic: organise workplaces to allow safe traffic circulation by pedestrians and vehicles.
- Doors: make sure doors and gates are suitably constructed and comply with certain specifications.
- Escalators: make sure escalators function safely, are equipped with necessary safety devices and are fitted with easily identifiable and readily accessible emergency stop controls.
- Toilets: provide suitable and sufficient sanitary conveniences at readily accessible places.
- Washing: provide suitable and sufficient washing facilities at readily accessible places
- Water: provide an adequate supply of wholesome drinking water and cups, readily accessible and conspicuously marked.
- Clothing: provide suitable and sufficient accommodation for clothing, as well as changing facilities where special clothing is worn.
- Restrooms: provide suitable and sufficient rest facilities at readily accessible places. Rest rooms and areas must include suitable arrangements to protect non-smokers from discomfort. Suitable facilities must be provided for pregnant or nursing workers to rest and for workers to eat meals.
Under the law, employers must:
- decide what could harm you in your job and take precautions to stop it;
- explain how risks will be controlled and tell you who is responsible for this;
- give you the training and information you need to do your job safely;
- provide you with any equipment and protective clothing you need and ensure it is maintained;
- provide toilets, washing facilities and drinking water;
- provide first aid facilities;
- record injuries, diseases and dangerous incidents at work and report these to the Health and Safety Executive where relevant;
- have insurance that covers you in case you get hurt at work or ill through work;
- work with anyone sharing the workplace or anyone who is providing employees (such as agency workers), so that everyone’s health and safety is protected.
Your health and safety responsibilities are to:
- follow any training you have received when using equipment or materials your employer has given you;
- take reasonable care of your own and other people’s health and safety;
- co-operate with your employer on health and safety;
- tell someone if you think the work or inadequate precautions are putting anyone’s health and safety at risk.
How reps can help
UNISON safety representatives can help ensure that your working environment is healthy and safe. On your behalf they can:
- investigate problems;
- inspect your workplace;
- raise health and safety issues with your employer.
They also have the right to be consulted on any health and safety measures which might substantially affect their members.
Next steps for UNISON reps
- Find out how to work with employers to come to agreements on health and safety issues.
- Carry out a health and safety inspection at least four times a year.
- Talk to members about any concerns they have in relation to the workplace and raise these with your employer.
- Working conditions covers areas such as space, temperature, lighting, ventilation, humidity and welfare facilities, including access to drinking water.
- Working conditions covers areas such as welfare facilities, ventilation, cleanliness, space, lighting and temperature.
- Your employer must ensure that your workplace comply with the Workplace Health, Safety and Welfare Regulations.
- Your UNISON rep can help if your employer is not doing what they should.
I’ve spoken to my employer about improving my work conditions but they don’t seem to be listening. What should I do next?
Contact your UNISON rep for advice and support. Your employer has a responsibility to listen to your concerns and provide adequate workplace conditions.
Is there any guidance to help me come to an agreement with my employer on health and safety in my workplace?
Yes, read the UNISON guide to partnership agreements, called Working Together on Health & Safety.
My workplace is always either too hot or too cold – what can I do?
Contact your safety rep for advice. Your employer must take steps to maintain a reasonable workplace temperature and provide a sufficient number of thermometers so that you can check the temperature.