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The main occupational risks in the workplace

Risk prevention in the workplace is mandatory. Sadly, however hard we try, accidents still happen on a daily basis, which is why it is so critical to implement measures to reduce the potential for accidents as much as possible. 


In the UK we have legislation surrounding risk prevention in the workplace which sets out a series of obligations for both companies and workers, with the aim of ensuring everyone’s safety. We’ll explain this in detail below.



The UK law on risk prevention in the workplace


The Health and Safety Act has been key to regulating risk prevention in the workplace since it was brought into force in 1974. The primary aim of the Act is to secure “the health, safety and welfare of persons at work, [and] for protecting others against risks to health or safety in connection with the activities of persons at work.”


There have been various modifications to the Act since its introduction in 1974, and supplementary legislation for specific industries, for example, has been added. However, the Act still constitutes the main method of enforcing health and safety principles in the workplace. It sets out the general duties which: 


  • employers have towards employees and members of the public.
  • employees have to themselves and to each other.
  • certain self-employed have towards themselves and others.


So, on the one hand, prevention is a workers’ right. However, it is also an obligation for all parties. Every business owner must ensure the safety of their employees, but the employees themselves must also be informed and comply with the established regulations. 


As part of the business owner’s duty to protect their employees, they will need to have a health and safety policy in place and complete relevant risk assessments. If the company has more than 5 employees, this must be written down. The Health and Safety Executive provides guidance on their website for creating a health and safety policy and advises that it must cover these three areas:



Part 1: Statement of intent


State your general policy on health and safety at work, including your commitment to managing health and safety and your aims. As the employer or most senior person in the company, you should sign it and review it regularly.



Part 2: Responsibilities for health and safety


List the names, positions and roles of the people in your business who have specific responsibility for health and safety.



Part 3: Arrangements for health and safety


Give details of the practical arrangements you have in place, showing how you will achieve your health and safety policy aims. This could include, for example, doing a risk assessment, training employees and using safety signs or equipment.


The employer must also comply with three very important obligations, among others, so far as is reasonably practicable:


  • The provision and maintenance of plant and systems of work that are safe and without risks to health.
  • The provision of such information, instruction, training and supervision as is necessary to ensure the health and safety at work of employees.
  • the provision and maintenance of a working environment for his employees that is safe, without risks to health, and adequate as regards facilities and arrangements for their welfare at work.



The statistics on occupational risk in the UK 


According to data from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), 142 employees were killed at work in the 2020/21 period. This compares to the 111 fatalities in the HSE’s 2019/20 summary report. While this appears at first glance to be a significant increase, the HSE stresses the lower figure was influenced significantly by the coronavirus pandemic and the high numbers of employees on furlough.


As for accidents at work, there were 693,000 non-fatal accidents in 2019/20, of which 65,427 were reported to the Health and Safety executive under Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR).


main occupational risks in the workplace



What are the most common risks in the workplace?


The most common occupational risks are, without a doubt, falls, slips, and trips. These accounted for 29% of all workplace accidents in the UK in 2020. Next, are handling, lifting and carrying (19%), being struck by a moving object (11%), and acts of violence (9%). 


Occupation risks in the workplace can generally be grouped into seven categories



1. Physical risk


Physical risk is when a worker could suffer bodily harm with or without direct contact. The most common examples include:


  • Noise which can cause hearing deterioration when it is very loud. 
  • Vibrations caused by machinery can affect the spinal column, cause headaches, abdominal discomfort, etc. 
  • Low lighting can produce eye fatigue, headaches, etc.
  • Temperature and humidity pose a physical risk if they are very low or very high. 



2. Chemical risk


Another safety risk in the workplace relates to uncontrolled exposure to chemical agents. This can affect us in three ways: through inhalation, ingestion, or skin contact. Therefore, any tasks that involve handling chemical substances should be carried out with an awareness of the potential risks. 



3. Biological risk


Biological risk primarily affects people who work at healthcare facilities. It is the risk caused by exposure to viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungus. 



4. Ergonomic risk


Incorrect postures, carrying too much weight, doing the same movement over many hours, all pose an ergonomic risk. This is probably one of the most common risks and can cause a variety of physical injuries.



5. Psychosocial risk 


Increasing numbers of workers are suffering from stress, anxiety, and fatigue, among others, making psychosocial issues a growing occupational risk concern. 



6. Electrical risk


Working with machinery connected to power always carries an electrical risk. In other words, if the electrical installation is not up to scratch, it can cause short circuits and result in material and personal damage.



7. Environmental risks


These cannot be controlled as they are usually associated with natural causes: floods, storms, earthquakes, etc.



What obligations do the company and employees have?


Let’s start with the obligations the business owner or public entity has. As we have said, they must protect and guarantee the safety of their employees. To do this, it is compulsory to implement the following general measures: 


  • Avoid occupational risks wherever possible.
  • Assess unavoidable risks.
  • Address the risks at their source. 
  • Adapt a person’s work, especially when defining job roles, choosing teams, and work and production methods. Seek to minimise monotonous and repetitive work and reduce the related health effects.
  • Bear in mind technological developments.
  • Substitute dangerous elements with those that pose little or no risk.
  • Plan risk prevention by creating a coherent policy featuring technology, the organisation of work, working conditions, social relationships, and the influence of environmental factors in the workplace.
  • Adopt measures that prioritise safety of the workforce as a whole.
  • Give the necessary instructions to workers.  

As we said at the start, the worker is also obliged to comply with the company’s standards to guarantee their safety and that of their colleagues. As such, they should:


  • Use machines, tools, dangerous substances, teams, and all work methods appropriately
  • Use the protective equipment and procedures supplied by the business owner correctly and according to the instructions. 
  • Inform their line manager and designated health and safety officer immediately about any situation that in their opinion poses a risk to the health or safety of the employees.
  • Play their part complying with the obligations set out by the competent authority.  
  • Cooperate with the business owner so they can guarantee safe working conditions that do not pose a health and safety risk to employees. 
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