Liabilities of Safety in the Workplace

Safety in the workplace should never be an area for discussion. It is a dangerous line to walk when employers either ignore or do not understand their obligations to employees, contractors, visitors and others impacted by the business. The thought process can easily include ideas such as… ‘We’ve always done it this way, and nothing has happened.’
‘We don’t have the finances to implement the full safety measures.’
‘The safety measures take too much time. It will be quicker if we just…’ But, when it comes to safety, there should be zero tolerance for non-compliance. Let’s discuss some of the liabilities of safety compliance.

Do I have to implement safety?

The short answer is, yes. The Health and Safety at Work (HSW) Act clearly identifies that those who create risk must manage it. And while the risk does not have to be fully eliminated, everything ‘reasonably practicable’ must be implemented to protect people from harm.
Many of the safety regulations are created because of past workplace accidents. Implementing the regulations required by law will not only keep you out of a legal battle, but also takes the guess work out of how to make certain environments safe.
Question regarding how far machine guarding should be or how many meters should be around a fire extinguisher can easily be identified in the regulation. By simply following regulations, you remove the elements of justification during legal battles, i.e. ‘Can you justify your decision for three-meter clearances around electrical panel versus what is required in the regulatory statue?’

Best Practice vs. Regulatory Requirements

When are regulatory requirements not enough? The answer is, if you feel like it is not safe enough.
At this point a company might go above and beyond the regulations by implementing best practices. For example, EN60204 requires the minimum distances around equipment that is likely to be live during access and conducting parts are exposed to be 1.0 meter. However, due to the layout of the facility, competency of employees, and potentials for heavy operating equipment (such as forklifts), a company may decide to increase this distance. By doing so, the company is implementing a best practice that is often more stringent than the existing regulation.

Employee responsibility

Just like the employer has a responsibility to create a safe workplace, the employee also has a responsibility to follow safety regulations and rules required in that workplace.
Safety is just as much an individual responsibility as it is a cultural environment.
Many employees work alone or in remote environments. It is difficult, and unreasonable, for an employer to be everywhere at once. Therefore, employees should be proactive in their safety by ensuring proper personal protective equipment (PPE), procedures, and training is implemented.
Many companies establish safety committees where select employees are requested to provide additional safety input and reviews of workplace incidents.
The added value of these committees is that employees begin to have ‘buy-in’ into their safety requirements because they are often promoters of the increase safety measures. This buy-in is critical when developing a strong overall safety culture.