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New Spring budget 2023: “back to work” measures — health and safety considerations for employers

Fresh workplace challenges for employers in light of Chancellor Jeremy Hunt's new Spring budget 2023 to ensure the health and safety of all employees…

As part of his Spring budget 2023, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has announced a series of “back to work” measures. These include plans for attracting the long-term sick back into employment, “returnships”, (i.e., apprenticeships for over 50s to tackle unemployment among that age group, which comprises more than 3.5 million people according to data from Age UK), and pension tax reform in a bid to keep older workers in the labour market.

Alongside the obvious benefits intended by these measures, designed to break down barriers at work and tackle labour shortages head on, there are fresh workplace challenges for employers, particularly in the important area of health and safety.

Many of those targeted by these reforms will have specific requirements in the workplace to enable them to do their job, not just effectively, but also in a safe and healthy fashion. As a result, employers will need a heightened awareness of disability and illness in order to create clear strategies, policies and robust systems that demonstrate how they will support their employees and accommodate individual needs.

Under health and safety law, employers must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of all their employees whilst at work. Employers must also provide adequate information, instruction, training, and supervision to enable workers to carry out their work safely. Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employers have a duty to assess workplace risks to the health and safety of their workers.

This includes identifying groups of workers who might be particularly at risk, which could include older workers and those with health conditions or impairments. In this context it is worthy of note that the proportion of fatal injuries involving older workers (aged 60+) has been steadily increasing in recent years. In 2021/22 there were 29 fatalities in the over 60 age category out of a total of 123, which is significant when one considers the lower number of workers aged over 60 in the workplace as compared with those aged 16-59.

Whilst a separate risk assessment is not necessarily required for older workers or those with health conditions or impairments, if there are any issues that arise at work because there are such workers employed, these have to be identified by the workplace risk assessment, and any risk must be removed or reduced ‘as far as is reasonably practicable’. For example, for physiological reasons, older or disabled colleagues (and/or those suffering with health conditions) may be more susceptible to certain hazards than their younger, non-disabled, counterparts. Risk assessments should be reviewed regularly to ensure they cover any risks to all workers (and indeed visitors).

Employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled workers. The aim of this duty under equality law is to ensure that, as far as is reasonable, disabled workers have the same access to everything involved in doing and keeping a job as non-disabled workers. Meeting this duty may mean removing any physical barriers to working and/or providing extra support for disabled people.

People with mental health conditions, including those linked to stress, may also require adjustments in the workplace. By working together with employees, employers can develop solutions to keep people at work while managing any foreseeable risk. There is more information on the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) website regarding guidance on stress and mental health , and the HSE also provide  practical examples of actions taken by employers to support workers with a range of disabilities and health conditions. 

Some examples of changes you may consider to best accommodate older workers, or those with health conditions or impairments, include:

  • allowing them more time to absorb health and safety information or training, for example through self-paced training
  • consulting and involving those concerned when considering which control measures to put in place.  Consulting with your workers, as opposed to making assumptions, will help you manage health and safety in a practical way and help to improve how you manage health and safety risks
  • designing manual handling tasks (i.e., transporting or supporting a load by hand or bodily force, such as lifting, pushing, pulling, carrying, or moving loads) to eliminate or minimise the risk for these workers
  • introducing opportunities for workers to choose other types of work. However, do not assume that certain jobs are physically too demanding, as many jobs are supported by technology which can absorb the physical strain. Workplace adjustments can frequently support workers in performing their role, and it is important to be aware that workers with the same health condition may not necessarily have the same severity of symptoms, so steer well clear of introducing blanket policies
  • in addition to regular safety inspections, ergonomic assessments are also a productive way to protect workers. Organisations should make sure all workers have full and equal access to occupational health and wellbeing support and appropriate physical adjustments, equipment and flexible working arrangements, and all forms of adaptation are seen as normal by staff. Flexible working arrangements, reduced hours, or ability to adjust the time and place of work are fundamental to making work safer and more comfortable for those who are older or have an existing health condition or impairment
  • workplace wellness programs that encourage employees to eat healthily, exercise, get regular preventive screenings, and manage stress and chronic illness are good for everyone – but especially for older workers.

Remember, you may need specialist help to understand the effects of a worker’s disability or health condition (or even age) on workplace health and safety. You can seek guidance on the HSE website or receive help on how to accommodate these workers’ needs by contacting occupational health services and, if necessary, medical professionals.

Our specialist team of health and safety solicitors can provide you or your organisation with a comprehensive service to help achieve compliance with regulatory requirements and robust support in the event of a serious health and safety incident.