A recent case has brought to light the legal responsibilities placed on employees in regards to their own safety and that of those around them.

Earlier this year, a scaffolder was taken to court after a concerned member of the public reported him for unsafe behaviour. Mr Terrance Murray was captured on photograph as he erected scaffolding at height. Stood on a wooden plank, Murray failed to erect edge protection required by law and although he was wearing a harness, it was not connecting t0 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.

Ultimately, 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 etc. Act 1974. He was also ordered to pay costs of £500 and a victim surcharge of £115 following the hearing.

Why did responsibility fall on the individual?

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.

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

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

For more information on employer vs employee legal responsibility, take a look at our blog; where does health and safety responsibility lie?

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