Organising for health & safety

People are an essential part of implementing a health and safety policy.  To ensure implementation is efficient and effective it is important that roles and responsibilities are defined, covering everyone from the managing director to people on the shop-floor.  The groups of people likely to be covered by such an organisation include:

  • The most senior person in the organisation – ultimately accountable for health and safety;
  • Senior managers – set policy and are responsible for the performance;
  • Departmental managers – making resources available for health and safety;
  • Supervisors – managing day-to-day health and safety issues;
  • Health and safety advisors – providing advice regarding legislation and best practice;
  • People with emergency response responsibilities – includes first aiders and fire marshals;
  • All employees – all of whom have legal duties as a minimum.

1.1                      Reporting lines

As well as individual roles and responsibilities, it is important that reporting lines are clear, employees are empowered and competent to make an effective contribution, and that there are adequate communication systems in place.  There should be effective consultation on health and safety and ultimately the aim is to motivate people to work safely.

It must be recognised that some external groups of people can influence or be influenced by the health and safety of an organisation.  In this context it may be necessary to make arrangements with groups such as unions, regulators, emergency services, insurance companies, neighbours and organisations in the supply chain (i.e. suppliers and customers).

1.2                      Establishing an organisation

Organising for health and safety is often described as involving the ‘4 Cs’.  They are:

  1. Control;
  2. Co-operation;
  3. Communication;
  4. Competence.

1.2.1                       Control

Control is about getting everyone to work together to achieve good health and safety performance.  It starts at the top of an organisation, by nominating someone to have overall accountability.  Responsibilities are then allocated to line managers.  Specialists are appointed to advise the line.

Safety only happens when people accept it as part of the job.  To achieve control

  • Responsibilities must be clearly laid out;
  • Responsibilities must be understood;
  • People with responsibilities must have necessary time and resources;
  • People must be held accountable.

1.2.2                       Co-operation

Co-operation is achieved by allowing and encouraging everyone to participate in health and safety.  This generates ownership and understanding.  Also, it ensures knowledge and experience is built into solutions.

Participation can be achieved through safety representatives and committees.  However, everyone can be involved to some degree by inputting into and getting involved in decision making and problem solving.

1.2.3                       Communication

Communication is much more than sending out messages and assuming people receive them.  Successful communication means that ‘receivers’ understand messages in the same as was meant by the ‘sender.’

The effectiveness of communication will depend on how a message is formed, presented and transmitted.  Face-to-face communication is usually most effective because people have the chance to interact, asking questions and seeking clarification.  Direct communication can be achieved through:

  • Training, including induction and tool box talks;
  • Team briefings;
  • Formal and informal meetings;
  • Appraisal sessions.

Whilst written communication is often less reliable than face-to-face, it is still important.  Readability, legibility and availability will influence its effectiveness.  Options for written communication include:

  • Notice boards;
  • Newsletters;
  • Posters;
  • Competitions;
  • Notes in wage slips.


A lot of communication takes place informally (for example one-to-one ‘chats’ or sending of emails) and it is quite common for these to have a greater influence (even if wrong) than messages from the boss (which are correct but may not be presented in a way employees respond to so well).

1.2.4                       Competence

Competence is the ability of an individual or group to fulfil a role properly and safely.  It takes much more than training for someone to become competent, with experience having a significant influence.

The first stage in achieving competence is to clearly define the competence requirements.  Having done this it is possible to:

  • Recruit people with the appropriate aptitudes;
  • Deploy people to the most appropriate placements based on their knowledge and skills;
  • Identify training needs – where the competence held does not fully achieve the requirements;
  • Provide training and assessing to confirm the necessary competence has been achieved;
  • Assess competence and provide refresher training;
  • Make cover arrangements to ensure there are no competence gaps when individuals are absent.

An organisation may decide that it is better to engage another organisation to provide competent people.  This is usually the case where an activity is considered to be outside of the organisation’s core business (e.g. catering, administrative, security) or where specialist skills or knowledge are required.  However, care is required when ‘contracting out’ activities and all organisations involved have to understand that they share responsibility for safety and have to co-operate in managing risks.

1.3                      Consulting on Health and Safety

Under UK law employers must consultant with employees on health and safety matters.  Consultation is not just giving information, but also listening to and taking account of what employees say before making decisions.  Employers must allow enough time and provide means by which comments can be made.

Reference – L146 ‘Consulting workers on health and safety. Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 (as amended) and Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996 (as amended)’ available free at

1.3.1                       Providing information

Employers must provide enough information to their employees or their representatives to allow them to take a full and effective part in consultation.  There are exceptions that mean information that would harm national security or the business for some reason other than health and safety can be withheld, or if it relates to an individual who has not given permission for that information to be distributed.

1.3.2                       Topics to consult on

Employers must consult on any decision involving work equipment, processes or organisation that could affect the health and safety of employees.

There are many more topics that could be consulted on but it is recognised that it is impractical to consult fully on every aspect of a business.  However, employees should as a minimum be consulted on the following:

  • Any change which may substantially affect health and safety at work, (e.g. procedures, equipment or ways of working);
  • Arrangements for getting people competent to help satisfy health and safety laws;
  • Information that employees must be given on the likely risks and dangers arising from their work, measures to reduce or get rid of these risks and what they should do if they have to deal with a risk or danger;
  • The planning of health and safety training;
  • The health and safety consequences of introducing new technology.

Reference –‘Consulting employees on health and safety’ available free at

1.3.3                       Safety representatives

There are specific regulations regarding consultation in organisations where trade unions are recognised.  The Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations (SRSCR) 1977 require that, if safety representatives have been appointed then the employer must consult them on matters affecting the group or groups of employees they represent (which may include non-members of the union).

There are also regulations for organisations where trade unions are not recognised.  The Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations (HSCER) 1996 require employers to consult employees either directly or through elected representatives.

Safety representatives have a key role in representing employees in discussions with the employer on health, safety or welfare issues and in discussions with enforcing authorities.  They can act as a focal point for consultation and can get involved in all aspects of health and safety including making inspections, investigations and following up employee complaints.  They have a right to paid time-off to carry out their role and receive training; and have to be provided with suitable facilities.

1.3.4                       Safety committees

An employer must set up a safety committee if two or more union safety representatives ask for one.  Whether trade unions are recognised or not, health and safety committees can be an excellent method of communication, up, down and across the organisation.  They provide an effective method of consultation and have the benefit of demonstrating commitment and providing a forum where consultation can take place whilst notes and records are made.  For a committee to be effective it is important to:

  • Have management commitment;
  • Provide terms of reference for the committee;
  • Set an agenda
  • Take minutes of the meetings ;
  • Balance management and employee representatives;
  • Have a good chairman;
  • Have frequent meetings;
  • Ensure topics for discussion are appropriate;
  • Provide access to health and safety expertise;
  • Provide some power for decision making.

1.3.5                       Safety advisors

Safety advisors are not responsible for the safety of an organisation as that cannot be delegated by management.  Rather, their role is to provide advice to management and employees or their representatives regarding health and safety performance, improvement and compliance.

A health and safety advisor needs to be authoritative and independent.  To be effective they need to have status and competence.  To fulfil their role they need to:

  • Be well trained;
  • Stay up to date with laws and practices;
  • Interpret laws to apply to their organisation;
  • Be involved in developments and decision making;
  • Establish and maintain procedures;
  • Present advice well.

Health and safety advisers are likely to be involved in liaising with outside bodies.

1.4                      Mandatory posters and leaflets

The Health and Safety Information (Amendment) Regulations 2009 require employers to display a poster or distribute a leaflet telling employees what they need to know about health and safety.  These are available from HSE and are divided into the following three sections:

  • What employers must do for you;
  • What you must do;
  • If there’s a problem.

Reference – ‘Health and safety law – What you should know’ available free at