Return to work after cancer - preventive action

This section outlines the legal context and various methods for carrying out relevant and suitable risk assessments.

Health and safety is all about preventing individuals from being harmed or becoming ill through work. It is an employer’s duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and other people who might be affected by their business. Employers must do whatever is reasonably practicable to achieve this.

Legal background

The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 requires employers to secure the health (including mental health), safety and welfare of employees at work. This includes providing a safe place of work, safe systems of work, and information and training.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (as amended) require suitable and sufficient assessments of health and safety risks at work to be carried out – these include identifying those particularly at risk and risk of stress-related ill health.

The Equality Act 2010 consolidates, harmonises and expands on existing discrimination law. It gives rights to people who have or have had a disability which makes it difficult for them to carry out day-to-day activities. The disability could be physical, sensory or mental. Find out more by visiting the Macmillan Cancer Support and HSE websites.

The Employment Rights Act 1996 and Employment Act 2008 set out many of the statutory rights that most employees are entitled to when they work, including those on unfair dismissal, reasonable notice before dismissal, time-off for parenting, redundancy and requests for flexible working time.

You can get more information on these pieces of legislation on the Office of Public Sector Information website.

The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work outlines a variety of European Directives which have become law in the UK.

Identifying problems

Employers must assess the health and safety risks to employees and others who may be affected by their work activities. Arrangements must be made for the effective planning, organisation, control, monitoring and review of preventive and protective measures. The HSE provides a lot of guidance on risk management, including examples of risk assessments and risk assessment templates.

An HSE leaflet outlines the five steps to risk assessment:

  1. identify the hazards
  2. decide who might be harmed and how
  3. evaluate the risks and decide on precautions
  4. record your findings and implement them
  5. review your assessment and update if necessary

Any risk assessments should include identification of workplace hazards including chemical, biological, physical or ergonomic hazards. Examples of risk assessments are also provided.

The HSE’s COSHH Essentials website provides advice on controlling exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace. The Approved Code of Practice for COSHH contains a lot of useful guidance on how to comply with the regulations.

The TUC’s workSMART site also provides information on health surveillance for employees.

Risk assessment

Within the context of the risk assessment, changes in health status for those returning to work may occur, so risk re-assessment should be carried out regularly and reviewed when the changes affect the ability to work.

Risk assessments and how to carry them out are discussed under the Rehabilitation section of this toolkit.

Personal protective equipment

If personal protective equipment is used as one element of the risk control programme (it must not be the sole measure used to reduce exposure), it must:

  • be suitable for the substance used and work activity
  • fit properly (which would mean face-fit testing for respiratory protective equipment)
  • be disposed of properly or cleaned
  • be stored properly
  • be maintained if it is non-disposable.

The content for this toolkit was produced as part of the IOSH-funded research undertaken by the Institute of Occupational Medicine, Loughborough University and Affinity Health at work.