As an employer, you have a duty to protect your employees from physical or mental harm in the workplace and in the course of work activities elsewhere. That means following health and safety laws, of course, but it also means accepting moral responsibility for employees’ well-being. There are several different areas you need to consider.

Defining responsibilities and providing training

Every role in your workplace should be clearly defined and you should provide adequate training to ensure that workers know how to carry out their duties safely. If you bring in workers who have done similar jobs elsewhere before, or who have certificates to show that they’re trained, you should still show them how those jobs are done in your workplace and make sure they understand. Employees should never be obliged to fill in for others if they don’t have the skills to do so safely. You must also provide any necessary personal protection equipment (PPE) and make sure that it’s suitable for the users. Employees must be taught how to take it on and off safely.

Promoting safety and managing risk

It’s your duty as an employer to maintain a safe working environment. Of course, it’s impossible to make any workplace completely safe, but you should institute safety checks and measures to ensure that your workers are aware of the risks you can’t avoid. That includes everything from putting up warning signs when floors are wet to providing COVD-19 testing and running regular fire drills. As the pandemic makes clear, it’s not a task that you can undertake by following a fixed set of rules. You will need to adjust what you do to take into account changing circumstances and different employee needs. For instance, if you take on an employee with hearing loss, you will need to find alternatives to relying on auditory emergency alarms.

Taking proactive measures to promote well-being

Your duty of care isn’t just about responding to existing risks. It’s also about supporting your employees’ health and well-being. This means putting sensible limits on the number of hours they work and providing adequate opportunities for rest, especially when they’re undertaking strenuous tasks. It also means encouraging them to take sick days when needed, which also protects the health of other people in the workplace. It can also extend to things like providing a comfortable space to take breaks, making sure that fresh water is always available and ensuring that your workers have access to healthy snacks or that there’s healthy food in the workplace canteen. Increasingly, access to natural light is also being recognised as important.

Tackling bullying, harassment and discrimination

Sometimes, unfortunately, you will find that you have to protect employees from one another. It is much easier if you have good existing policies in place on equality and proper conduct. You will need to make sure that employees know how to report incidents of bullying, harassment, discrimination or other inappropriate behaviour. You will also need to take disciplinary action when employees behave inappropriately, rather than just listening to complaints and then forgetting about them. In some instances, you may need to stand up for your employees when customers or clients behave inappropriately towards them. All this is easier if you have clear rules and enforce them consistently. Remember that incidents which seem minor on their own can still do serious harm if they happen all the time.

Ensuring ongoing employee input

Ultimately, no matter how hard you work to uphold your duty of care, you’re going to miss things simply because you’re not the one at the coalface. Make sure that you provide plenty of opportunities for your workers to give you feedback and make suggestions. We all have different needs and face different challenges, so the more people that are willing to share their perspectives with you, the better. Offering different ways of doing this – such as by telephone, through email or at private or public meetings – often helps to increase input. Make sure that employees feel confident that they won’t be penalised if they tell you something is wrong. Always keep comments made in private confidential unless you have explicit permission to share them, so that workers don’t have to worry about colleagues disapproving of them.

Fulfilling your duty of care as an employer isn’t something you do simply for your employees’ benefit or to meet legal requirements. When you get it right, your employees will be happier, more loyal and more committed. Every aspect of your business will benefit.