What happens when an employee doesn’t comply with health and safety regulations?

Just as employers have health and safety regulations to follow, employees must also take responsibility for their own and others’ safety whilst at work. So what are the responsibilities that employees must take when it comes to their wellbeing and what happens if an employee doesn’t comply with safety regulations?

What are the safety responsibilities placed on employees and what can happen if they breach health and safety legislation? 

If an employer is found to have taken all reasonable steps to meet health and safety legislation and keep their employees safe and an employee then fails to adhere to the safety procedures or use the safety equipment provided, the employee can be found at fault in the event of an accident. In fact, they can still be prosecuted for failing to adhere to the guidelines even if no accidents occur. 

 A case reported in IOSH Magazine of a scaffolder who was in breach of health and safety legislation is a perfect example of an employee acting irresponsibly when it comes to health and safety – and being prosecuted – even though it did not cause an accident. 

Terrance Murray, a scaffolder working in Manchester, was taken to court after a concerned member of the public reported him for unsafe behaviour. Mr  Murray was captured on camera as he erected scaffolding at height. Standing on a wooden plank, Murray failed to erect edge protection required by law and although he was wearing a harness, it was not connected to the scaffolding or building.

Murray would have likely sustained fatal injuries if he had fallen from the estimated 13 to 18-metre height above the concrete deck of a car park. Members of the public could have also been seriously injured or killed had Murray fallen.

As a result of his negligence, Murray was sentenced to 26 weeks in prison, a one-year suspension and 100 hours of community service after pleading guilty to breaching section 7(a) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. He was also ordered to pay costs of £500 and a victim surcharge of £115 following the hearing.

The sentence given to Murray was purposefully impactful to reinforce the importance of following company guidelines and procedures.

Other examples of employees not complying with health and safety regulations

There are several examples of employees being prosecuted for their unsafe behaviour. In 2010 a Volker Highways employee was fined over £5000 after dropping part of a street light on a toddler. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found Joseph Parker, 25 from Romford, had not erected temporary barriers around the faulty lamp on Gillett Square in Hackney, while he was working. Temporary barriers should have been used to segregate pedestrians from the work area before Mr Parker dismantled the reflector. He was fined £2,250 and ordered to pay costs of £2,888.

In another incident in 2019, an employee at a potato storage warehouse lifted an apprentice electrician 4 metres above the ground to carry out electrical repairs. The apprentice was lifted in a potato box balanced on the forks of a forklift truck, which then led to the apprentice falling out of the box and breaking their ribs and puncturing their lung.

The HSE found during their investigation, that the employer had carried out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment and had supplied suitable equipment to work at height, however, the employee that was in charge of the site at the time, did not use the equipment or follow the action points within the risk assessment. He was fined £2,000.

Why did responsibility fall on the individual and not the company in these cases?

In the case of scaffolder Terrence Murray, an investigation by the HSE found that Murray’s employers had taken reasonable steps to protect employees working at height. Murray was well trained, experienced and had the correct equipment available to him. He was not under any pressure or time constraints by his employer at the time.

Murray acted alone against his better interest and training, despite procedures being made clear to him. Murray was also working alongside a trainee scaffolder at the time of the incident and so was setting an unsafe example.

Similarly, in the other two cases, the HSE investigation found the incident was entirely preventable if the employees had followed procedure and complied with health and safety regulations. Section 7(a) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 states;

It shall be the duty of every employee while at work – 

(a) to take reasonable care for the health and safety of himself and of other persons who may be affected by his acts or omissions at work

Procedures put in place by organisations are there to protect their employees. Failure to comply could cost an employee or those around them their safety, or even their life. 

Helping employees understand their responsibilities

Sometimes getting employees on board with all of your health and safety procedures can seem like a struggle. Yet there are some simple steps you can follow to encourage engagement;

  • Ensure your policies are concise and easy to understand
  • Focus on positive safety messaging
  • Lead by example
  • Ensure your employees understand the legal aspect of their responsibilities
  • Use real-life cases and examples like the one above to reinforce your message

Looking for more information on health and safety legislation? Our Guide to Lone Working covers your legal responsibilities and practical advice on how to keep staff safe.

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