An employer’s Duty of Care is the responsibility they have towards the welfare and safety of their employees whilst at work.
In our blogs and knowledge base articles we are always talking about how protecting lone workers is part of an employer’s Duty of Care. This is a phrase you might have heard bandied around a lot, but have you ever found yourself wondering what Duty of Care actually means, and how you need to apply it, then this is the blog for you.
We have split this blog into two parts, as Duty of Care is such a large area to cover.
In this blog we will look at what it actually means for your business and who is responsible. We will also look at two case studies of businesses who failed to control the risks. Next week we will look at how to practically attend to your Duty of Care and what you should consider.
Who Has a Duty of Care?
Anyone who employs someone has a Duty of Care towards them. This is your responsibility whether you have one member of staff or one thousand.
It is up to you to make sure you have done everything that is reasonably possible to protect their health, safety, and wellbeing.
Employees also have a Duty of Care towards each other. For example, leaving a spillage and not reporting it or cleaning it up could result in someone hurting themselves. It is everyone’s duty to look after their colleagues.
The Business and Moral case for Duty of Care
If you are a small business owner taking responsibility for your staff’s happiness and wellbeing can seem like just another thing you have to worry about. That might be harsh, but small business owners often have a huge workload, and worrying about if all your staff are happy is the last thing you have time for.
But considerate from the other perspective.
Yes, it is your legal duty, but it is also your moral duty. Everyone deserves to be happy and free from discrimination at work. Everyone deserves to be safe at work too. And as the person in charge of ‘work’, it is your duty to see to that.
Imagine it was your child, spouse, or you being neglected or put at risk. It wouldn’t make you happy and you would want your employer to put it right.
But it also makes business sense. Regardless of your business size, success is driven (or not) by the people who are around you, working for you.
Staff who are ill, unmotivated, or unhappy are not productive. They might be absent a lot or not be very productive when they are there. They may even form cliques and engage in workplace bullying or become withdrawn and uncommunicative. None of these are the characteristics of the staff at a successful business.
Consequences of Neglecting your Duty of Care
There can be very serious consequences of not fulfilling your Duty of Care, and usually the Directors are the ones who bear the brunt as they have overall responsibility for their staff.
The consequences can be large fines, a withdrawal of a licence, or even prison. But the consequences for the victim can range from a minor injury and distress, to life changing injuries and even death.
Case Study 1
In November 2017, a local borough council in Wembley was fined over £100,000 when two if its social workers were attacked by the mother of a child they were visiting in their home.
The mother hit the social workers over the back of the head with an iron bar. The council was held responsible because they had failed to implement their lone worker policy and hadn’t risk assessed or trained their staff in dealing with or handling aggression. Furthermore, they haven’t flagged the property as being a risky environment, despite previous incidents.
After the court hearing, an HSE inspector commented: “The local authority in this case failed to adhere to and implement its own systems and procedure for the management of lone working and violence and aggression against social workers. This risk could have been reduced in a number of ways including carrying out the visit in a controlled environment, such as the local social workers’ office.”
Case Study 2
In December 2017, a construction company was fined nearly a quarter of a million after a worker was injured when he fell through the floor of a house they were building near Manchester. The floor had not been properly constructed by a subcontractor and the defendant failed to identify and control the hazard.
After the hearing, the HSE representative commented that: “As the principal contractor, [the defendant] was responsible for safety on the site including ensuring proper planning and co-ordination on the part of all involved in the project.
“[The defendant] also had a duty to monitor and control the other contractors that it had engaged – the collapse could have been avoided had the company fulfilled its duties in its role as principal contractor”
As these case studies demonstrate, the employer’s Duty of care is wide reaching and taken very seriously.
In next weeks blog we will look at practical tips for attending to your Duty of Care and what that actually means for your company.