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Q&A: What is your duty of care to staff?

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  • Publish date: 01 November 2011
  • Archived on: 03 November 2012

All employers want to prevent workplace accidents. But does your duty of care extend beyond that?

Small Business Update

This update was published in Small Business Update 95 - November 2011

Small Business Update from Atom Content Marketing is a monthly magazine for people running their own business. Articles vary in length and cover 'hot topics', issues of importance, and current affairs.

Adrian Wakeling (AW), senior guidance manager at the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas), and Ben Willmott (BW), employee relations adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), explain your responsibilities.

What is my duty of care as an employer?

BW: “Employers have a duty to ensure the safety and health of their employees. This means both physical and mental. A lot of personal injury claims are for work-related stress, so it’s not just about physical ‘slips and trips’, but issues like office bullying or excessive working hours too.”

Can I as an employer benefit from observing duty of care to staff?

BW: “There’s a very positive business case. Besides preventing accidents, you can avoid high levels of staff absence or turnover, poor work performance, liability problems, reputational damage — it’s not just about complying with red tape.

“The CIPD’s Absence Management Survey found family responsibilities cause significant absence. A flexible approach to hours can help. Options include working from home, nine-day fortnights, term-time working or flexi-time. It just takes a bit of imagination.”

AW: “Enlightened employers are developing policies on mental well-being and stress management. For a small firm, it could be one side of A4 listing reasonable steps you’ll take to tackle stress.

“Employees who are happy at work are more productive. Help your staff and they’ll go that extra mile for your business.”

What are my legal obligations as an employer?

AW: “The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 defines your obligations, while the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) publishes detailed regulations.”

BW: “The HSE requires you to assess potential risks ― just going through the assessment process deals with many of them. Once you identify a risk you’ve got to address it, perhaps through a problem-solving discussion with staff. Small businesses have limited resources, but many problems are down to how workload is managed not the workload itself.

“Avoid a tick-box approach that says: ‘We’ve done the risk assessment, we can relax.’ Find ways to build good practice into day-to-day activity.”

How far does my duty of care to staff extend?

BW: “Your duty of care extends to staff or suppliers on company business and the public if they’re on your premises.”

AW: “But you may be responsible for employees’ actions beyond work. Take social media. Once, employees moaned about work in the pub. Now somebody goes on Facebook and it’s publicised to the world. With social media, Acas advises employers to state in staff contracts what’s allowed and what isn’t.”

When does duty of care to staff become nannying?

BW: “The UK’s health and safety framework is appropriate and successful as it is. Lord Young reviewed it in 2010 but came up with few substantive ideas for reducing it. Most employers see it as good business practice, not nannying.”

AW: “The Liverpool Primary Care Trust has developed a ‘wellness charter’ listing things employers can do around diet and exercise, to improve staff well-being. Some might think that’s nannying, but it’s really about awareness-raising.

“It must appear to some small firms there’s a vast range of procedures around duty of care. It can seem daunting, but doesn’t have to be bureaucratic. It’s mostly common sense.”

Disclaimer: This article from Atom Content Marketing is for general guidance only, for businesses in the United Kingdom governed by the laws of England. Atom Content Marketing, expert contributors and ICAEW (as distributor) disclaim all liability for any errors or omissions.

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