Within two hours of starting at Shoreham docks, student Simon Jones was dead. It wasn’t his fault: no-one had warned him about what could go wrong. And it wasn’t a one-off. Thousands of young people have accidents at work every year, some of them fatal. The stats tell the whole story: if you’re new to the job, you’re more likely to get hurt than anyone else at work. This isn’t a bunch of rules about what you can and can’t do when you start earning. It’s about keeping yourself safe at work so you can enjoy life to the full, on your own terms.
It’s about making sure you’re still earning next week, next month, next year: the difference between leaving work for a drink with your mates and leaving work in the back of an ambulance.
And it’s also about grabbing the power back. When you’re young and when you’re new, it can easily seem like everyone has the right to boss you around. Not if you know your rights to earn cash to do the stuff you want without having to risk life and limb. This is about putting you in control. You have a choice - use it!
This is not a full statement of the law.
Always seek the advice of a legal professional if you are not sure where you stand.
Your boss is responsible for your safety
Full-time or part-time, in-house or agency, fixed-term or temporary contract, big company or small firm, even self-employed in some cases – if you’ve got a contract of employment, it’s up to your boss to make sure you’re not exposed to unnecessary risk. That’s the law (the Health and Safety At Work Act 1974).
This goes for any other employers whose premises you enter. And it goes for working through employment agencies, who also have responsibility for your safety.
But just because it’s down to the boss to make sure you’re not exposed to unnecessary risk doesn’t mean you can just switch off. You have a legal duty to “take reasonable care of yourself and others” and “co-operate with your employer” to reach health and safety standards. If you spot a health hazard, don’t just chat about it over a cup of tea: make sure somebody tells whoever’s responsible.
If you’re unlucky enough to have an accident at work, your employer may be liable to pay you compensation. However, this is not a recommended way of making a bit of extra cash.
Protection for under-18s
If you’re 16 or 17 years old, there are special protections in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
Employers must take account of
Young people can’t do work which:
Know your rights at work
Nearly every worker is covered by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. You get more protection if you are an employee with a contract of employment but trade unions are trying to change the law so that all workers have the same cover.
Stand up for your rights. If you think any of your employment rights are not being respected, talk to your union rep. If your boss doesn’t recognise a union, or there is no union organisation at work, then try contacting one of the organisations in ‘where to go for help’ section at the end of this page.
Your safety rights
Every employer must have a policy, explaining how they will manage health and safety and who is responsible for what
Your working time rights
In addition it is proposed that workers under 18 will not be allowed to work nights. If you are asked to work between 11pm and 6am you will need to look out for details on this.
The TUC has two leaflets on working time rights, one on holidays/rest breaks and one on maximum working hours, which you can get free by phoning 0870 600 4882. You can also click on the links and the text of these leaflets will be displayed as web pages.
Other leaflets on workplace rights also available by phoning the hotline. They are displayed in this section of the website. Go to the Know Your Rights main page for a full list.
Lots of the same movement at work can cause damage to your body. This is known as repetitive strain injury (RSI). Examples are check-out operators in a supermarket, or keyboard users in an office.
Just say no
You’re new to the job. You want to make a good impression. You don’t want to appear soft. But that doesn’t mean you have to do something dangerous just because your boss tells you to – even if they say everybody else does it.
You have a legal right to refuse to do anything you believe would place you in “serious and imminent danger” under the Employment Rights Act 1996. You don’t have to prove it – you just need a genuine reason for thinking it would harm you. For example: you’re working in a fast-food restaurant when a fight breaks out between two blokes in the queue and the manager tells you to break it up. Stepping in would potentially put you “in serious and imminent danger” – so don’t do it.
If your employer takes action against you for refusing, you can apply to have your case heard at an Employment Tribunal. This can be for any disciplinary action, not just dismissal, like if you’re downgraded without explanation. The right applies from the your first day at work.
But tribunals can’t insist that you get your job back. If they find in your favour, they can only order your employer to pay you compensation. This can be up to a maximum of £50,000 but the average payout is only around £3,000. If you’ve lost your job, you won’t survive for long on that.
If you are asked to do something unsafe
Most people have come across examples of this at school. Well, unfortunately it can happen at work too. As a young worker you may be on the receiving end as part of some notion about ‘licking you into shape’. Don’t let yourself be bullied by managers or anyone else in the workplace. You have got the right to respect as a worker and it should never be seen as just part of the job.
Don’t suffer in silence!
You’re off for a weekend bungee jump. Do you: (a) choose someone with a safety certificate, the right equipment and a checked-out venue or (b) someone who throws you off the nearest tall building with a bit of rope tied to your leg?
Employers have a legal duty to control risks at work. All significant risks must be identified and control measures put in place for everyone who could be exposed. This is called risk assessment.
If there are more than five people at work the risk assessment must be recorded. If there are fewer than five of you it doesn’t have to be written down but it must still exist. It must inform you about the precautions that are needed for the range of jobs and risks that you are exposed to.
What you can do
Many workplaces are noisy. If noise levels are too high it can damage your hearing. If you go clubbing you’ll already know about ‘ringing in the ears’ which disappears after a while. The biggest problem is when noise over a long period of time causes permanent damage. You may not be aware of the damage until your hearing worsens and simply doesn’t recover.
You have a right to know
When you start a job, you can’t be expected to know what the risks are and how to avoid them. That is why the law makes it clear that this is a priority for all employers. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and a lot of the regulations contain duties to provide you with information and training.
Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 you must be given training:
- being given a new job or responsibilities
- new equipment introduced or existing equipment changed
- new technology introduced
- new or changes to systems of work
What to do
There are thousands of toxic substances used every day at work. They may affect you in different ways according to:
Just because you can’t smell or see it doesn’t mean that it isn’t getting into your body. In some cases you will know it has, because you will get a quick effect like a headache or dizziness. In other cases you may get no immediate effect at all but it could still be doing you accumulated damage that will hit you later in life.
Asbestos dust is deadly. The dust gets into your lungs and can kill you twenty or thirty years down the line. The younger you are when you have your first exposure means you could die of a lung disease before you hit middle age.
Asbestos is present in most buildings that were built over 25 years ago unless it has been stripped out in a safe way.
If you are still being asked to work in conditions that you think are potentially dangerous then seek further advice.
You’re safer in the union
You’re half as likely to have an accident if there’s a trade union where you work. That’s because unions have the legal right to appoint safety reps to keep an eye on things (if the employer agrees to deal with them).
Safety reps can investigate problems, take up issues with management, call in enforcement agencies, tell you about your rights and make sure you get medical help if you have an accident. So get to know who your rep is.
You don’t have to make an official complaint to get your safety rep to investigate a problem. So don’t keep quiet because you’re worried the boss might pick on you: they need never know.
This is the most common type of accident. Overcrowded conditions or where there are a lot of materials and liquids lying around will increase your chances of adding to the statistics. For example the electric cables that often run across an office floor could be lying in wait for you.
If you’re worried about safety in your job, don’t be scared to raise it with your manager or supervisor first. If that doesn’t work, try your safety rep, your union, or one of the following:
1. Health and Safety ExecutiveMain enforcement body in the UK. It employs the inspectors who check on standards in workplaces and who can force employers to improve them. Anyone can contact them to ask for advice or ask for a visit to their workplace. You can ask that this is kept confidential if you are worried that your boss may find out. Find out which office of the HSE covers you by contacting the HSE Information Centre Tel 0541 545500. The HSE produces free and priced publications. Contact the Information Centre or HSE Books Tel 01787 881165 Fax 01787 313995. HSE free publications can be downloaded from www.open.gov.uk/hse/new.htm. If you want to check the law on health and safety you can find it on www.hmso.gov.uk
2. Trades Union Congress
The TUC is the collective voice of Britain’s 78 trade unions.
TUC Know Your Rights line. Tel 0870 600 4882. Free leaflets on employment rights, including health and safety.
TUC Information Service. Tel 020 7636 4030. Email firstname.lastname@example.org Information about unions and enquiries on employment issues.
TUC Website www.tuc.org.uk. Choose the Health and Safety subject from the drop down menu to access more information on health and safety, plus links to websites in the UK and other countries and direct access to the websites of all TUC-affiliated unions.
3. Health and Safety Advice Centres
Located in different parts of the country and providing free advice and information on occupational and environmental hazards. They are also linked to Trade Union Safety and Health Groups and Occupational Health Projects. These organisations are part of the Hazards Campaign which can provide details of your local group Tel 0161 953 4037. Some advice centres have projects specially for young workers like Newham HealthWorks. Tel 020 8557 6161 or email Healthworks@Newham.gov.uk. Some advice centres have their own website like the London Hazards Centre www.lhc.org.uk
4. Local authority Inspectors
Have a similar role to HSE inspectors, in the service sector. Environmental Health Officers can be contacted through the local authority numbers in the telephone directory.
5. Local fire authority
If your problem is to do with fire safety, then contact the fire officers responsible. They can be contacted in the local phone directory.
6. Employment Medical Advisory Service
Employs doctors and nurses who specialise in occupational health. Contact them if you want advice on any work-related health matters. Find out which is nearest you through your HSE area office.
7. Labour Research Department
Stick up for your rights - join a union
Factory workers and lorry drivers, office staff and shop assistants, bus drivers and airline pilots, teachers and soap stars, musicians and motor mechanics, footballers and chiropodists are all union members.
It costs less than you probably think - the average cost of being in a union is only 81p for part-time workers and £1.99 for those working full-time. And your employer doesn’t even need to know you are thinking of joining.
To find out more about how to join a union and which is the right one for you, phone the TUC, Britain’s national centre for trade unions, on:
020 7636 4030.
Stress is now the most commonly reported problem at work. Starting a new job is stressful enough anyway without getting any more piled on to you. Stress can be caused by lots of things but many stem from the way that your job is organised. Things like impossible workloads, boring or dangerous work can all make you wish you’d never got a job. Don’t fall for the old line that ‘some stress is good for you’. Stress is different from pressure. Stress happens when there is too much pressure.
Violence in the workplace has become more common too. Some jobs carry a much greater risk, particularly where there is contact with the public. Like bullying or stress it should never be seen as just ‘part of the job’. Violence doesn’t just cover physical attacks - it also includes verbal abuse as well.
This page http://www.tuc.org.uk/tuc/rights_worksafe.cfm
printed 19 June 2013 at 18:17 hrs by 184.108.40.206