The Crossover between Health & Safety and Employment Law
This month, Daniel Meyer-Lopez from HPC Law outlines the relationship between health & safety and employment law.
It may seem like an obvious concept, but Health & Safety and Employment Law are intrinsically linked. An employee has a right to work in a safe environment. This includes everything from an employee on a building site not having debris fall on his or her head, to an office employee not tripping over wires or boxes where they walk.
An employee may be deemed to have been unfairly dismissed if they feel that to continue to work would mean working in a dangerous environment (section 100(1) (d) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA 1996)). However, to ‘qualify’ for this protection, the employee must have a reasonably belief that the danger is “serious and imminent”. If an employee is dismissed for this reason, it will be considered automatically unfair and there is no need for a Tribunal to determine whether the dismissal was ‘fair’ within the meaning of Section 98 ETA 1996. An interesting case recently decided highlights this.
Mr B Hamilton -v- Solomon and Wu Limited
The Claimant worked for the Respondent for just short of three months as a joiner, having previously worked for them for three months as an agency worked. He was assigned various tasks by his supervisor Ms Groves. On at least one occasion, he had become frustrated with Ms Groves’ management of him and had left the site without authorisation.
The Claimant raised concerns with health and safety at the site, which included amongst other issues, the amount of dust produced by sanding. The Claimant raised his concerns with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). However, following an inspection by the HSE, no concerns were founded.
Following several events whereby the Claimant did not follow instructions, the Claimant was ultimately dismissed for not following orders. The Claimant brought an ET Claim stating that he was unfairly dismissed (automatically) on the basis that he could not work in an unsafe environment any further.
The Tribunal heard the complaints he raised about health and safety and found that the only complaint which satisfied section 100 (1)(d) ERA 1996 related to dust extraction. However, as the HSE had deemed that the employer had taken all the necessary steps as required by currently Health and Safety legislation, the Claimant’s Tribunal claim and ultimately his appeal against that decision, were both dismissed.
This highlights that an employee must have a ‘real and imminent’ threat of danger and not merely a concern about certain aspects of the job or environment.
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