Our latest technical questions and answers

Hundreds of people contact our health and safety helpline, seeking advice on topics ranging from working at height to hazardous substances, public safety to PPE, risk assessments to regulations.

These queries are answered by our friendly team of experts.

We recognise that many of the issues raised will be of interest to our wider membership. So, in the first of a new series, here are edited versions of some of the latest questions and answers.

Management help with health and safety

Question I’m having trouble getting the board, directors and managers to assist with health and safety. They say it is my domain and they don’t need to do anything with regards to the management system and that I have sole responsibility for risk assessments. The business has more than one site and I can’t possibly cover everything. What can I do?

Answer All directors/managers have duties under health and safety law. One person cannot carry out all risk assessments. These should involve those who do the work and, as such, their safety reps should be provided with training so they can assist.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website states the legal liability of individual board members for health and safety failures.

“If a health and safety offence is committed with the consent or connivance of, or is attributable to any neglect on the part of, any director, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the organisation, then that person (as well as the organisation) can be prosecuted under section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

“Recent case law has confirmed that directors cannot avoid a charge of neglect under section 37 by arranging their organisation's business so as to leave them ignorant of circumstances which would trigger their obligation to address health and safety breaches…

Read the full statement.

If you’re concerned that your advice isn't being acted upon then make sure you keep records, which you can use to raise your issues with the HSE.

Supporting on-call workers

Question The staff of a company I am helping go on-call after finishing work. If they are called out, they are still expected to work as normal the next day. I have concerns about this practice and want to know more about the regulations.

Answer Many businesses use on-call staff. They are essentially a standby employee, ready to carry out duties outside of normal working hours when asked.

This approach is used when a business has an unexpected or emergency demand outside of traditional working hours. There will often be on-call shifts where the worker is never required to do anything, or somewhere they are actually working for the whole time.

Under the working time directive for on-call hours, ‘working time’ is where someone works at your disposal and carries out their activity or duties. There are generally two different types of on-call working.

  1. The worker has to be at their normal workplace for the length of the on-call shift. In this situation, the whole time spent on-call is working time.
  2. The worker is free to do whatever they want during the on-call shift but, when told to work, they must follow the order. For this type, only time spent carrying out tasks is considered as working hours.

There’s also a hybrid type of on-call where the worker is free to do what they want during the shift, subject to restrictions. These could be that the worker:

  • must be able to attend the workplace within a certain period of time
  • cannot consume alcohol
  • must be able to drive at all times
  • must be contactable at all times.

As these restrictions mean the worker cannot spend the on-call time at their leisure, it is likely time spent on-call is working time.

Having time spent on-call classed as working time will impact:

  • the maximum 48-hour working week, unless the worker has opted out
  • minimum rest breaks
  • minimum rest periods
  • national minimum wage compliance where the staff members receives close to statutory rates.

It is vitally important that employees carrying out on-call work understand the company’s rules and procedures. An employer’s policy should set out:

  • the responsibilities of employees who are on-call.
  • any restrictions placed on workers while they are on-call
  • duties involved
  • how the employee will be contacted
  • what to do once the employee receives contact
  • whether additional benefits are in place for on-call work
  • health and safety rules.

The above is an edited version of London Law’s On-call Working Time Directive blog.

Read Acas’s advice on rest breaks for on-call workers.

Employers also need to address the more general health and safety aspects that are applicable, eg the risks from fatigue if an employee is called out during the night and then expected to work normally the next day. Read IOSH’s article on why fatigue management must be taken seriously and find out more about managing fatigue risks from the HSE.

Office ventilation requirements

Question We are currently refurbishing an office. It does not have mechanical ventilation and there are no plans to install such a system. The office is open plan, with windows that will open on one side. Do we legally need to install a mechanical ventilation system and, if yes, which legislation is applicable?

Answer The short answer is no, there is no specific legal requirement for a workplace such as an office to have a mechanical ventilation system installed. With regard to general workplace ventilation, the relevant health and safety legislation is regulation 6 of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 (as amended) and the following information taken from the accompanying Approved Code of Practice may be useful.

“In many cases, windows or other openings will provide sufficient ventilation in some or all parts of the workplace. Where necessary, mechanical ventilation systems should be provided for parts or all of the workplace.

“In the case of mechanical ventilation systems that recirculate air, including air-conditioning systems, recirculated air should be adequately filtered to remove impurities. To avoid air becoming unhealthy, purified air should have some fresh air added to it before being recirculated. Systems should therefore be designed with fresh-air inlets, which should be kept open.

“Mechanical ventilation systems (including air-conditioning systems) should be regularly and adequately cleaned. They should also be properly tested and maintained to ensure that they are kept clean and free from anything which may contaminate the air.”

The decision depends on whether it is possible to ensure that the area “…is ventilated by a sufficient quantity of fresh or purified air” via natural ventilation, ie through doors, windows, and, if an assessment determines that it isn’t, then some form of mechanical ventilation system would be needed.

There is no guidance relating to the size of rooms, but the guidance accompanying regulation 6 may be useful.

“The fresh-air supply rate should not normally fall below 5 to 8 litres per second, per occupant. When establishing a fresh-air supply rate, consider the following factors:

  • the floor area per person
  • the processes and equipment involved
  • whether the work is strenuous.”

Read general information from the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers and the HSE.

Introducing ISO 45001

Question Does the introduction of the 45001 standard replace just 18001, or 9001 and 14001 as well? And are there are any audit templates for ISO 45001 that I can use to carry out an internal audit?

Answer ISO 45001, which sets requirements for occupational health and management systems, replaced the BS OHSAS 18001. The new standard adopts the high-level structure used in other key management system standards such as ISO 9001 (quality) and ISO 14001 (environmental), which run alongside ISO 45001.

General information is available from IOSH and the ISO website and below are links to some guides and checklists:

Got a question?

The above questions and responses mostly relate to UK law, so please contact the helpline or your own regulatory body for information relevant to your country.

Call the IOSH health and safety helpline on +44 (0)116 257 3199 or send an email.

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Ali Barlow
Content Officer +44 (0)116 257 3117
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