Health and Safety - FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

I think my garden shed has an asbestos roof - how can I tell?

The only sure way to tell is to have a sample of the material examined by an expert analyst. However, in practise if the material is old, dense, thin and cement coloured it probably does contain asbestos - usually about 10%.

Am I allowed to dismantle my asbestos cement shed at home myself?

Yes. Health and safety legislation only applies to people at work - not to private DIY activities at your own home. It is still important to take basic safety precautions to protect yourself and your neighbours. See next question for precautions.

What precautions should I take when dismantling an asbestos cement building?

Asbestos cement is relatively safe provided it is handled with care. Avoid breaking sheets if possible and do not use power tools, such as drills, saws or sanders under any circumstances. If you cannot undo a fixing and a sheet must be broken then to minimise fibre release ensure the sheet is wet - as this is likely to cause dust particles to stick to the surface rather than float in your breathing zone. An ordinary dust mask is unlikely to provide respiratory protection against the tiny particles that can cause lung damage - better to avoid releasing dust by working carefully.

How can I dispose of asbestos cement products?

If you are able to transport the material then small quantities may be taken (by domestic residents of Stafford Borough) to the Council's waste collection site at St Albans Road, Stafford. Small quantities = 3 or 4 roof sheets, or equivalent. If possible large sheets should be wrapped in strong plastic sheeting. Small pieces should be placed in a sealed plastic bag, which should then be placed in another plastic bag and sealed - ie double bagged.

Larger quantities of asbestos cement will not be accepted at the above site and should be taken to an asbestos-licensed site - contact Staffordshire County Council Waste Disposal on tel. 0300 111 8000 for your nearest location, or contact an asbestos removal contractor (see 'Yellow Pages') who may be able to dismantle your building and/or take away asbestos cement products.

How do I manage asbestos in the workplace?

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 (CAR 2012) require persons/companies in control of workplaces to manage asbestos in buildings.  A practical effort should be made to identify the presence, nature and conditions of any asbestos present.  Where asbestos is in poor condition it is probably best to have it removed - a licensed asbestos removal contractor will probably be required.  Where asbestos containing materials are in sound condition and doing a useful job (ie fire protection) it is probably best left in situ - but information on the location and type of asbestos must be recorded.  This information will be required to ensure a system of routine checking on the condition of the asbestos is carried out and most importantly that nobody carries out any unauthorised work on asbestos-containing materials.

The CAR 2012 can be found on the Health and Safety Executive website.

Information on the management of asbestos in retail premises can be found on the British Retail Consortium website

Is there a minimum temperature for my place of work?

Employers are supposed to provide a comfortable temperature at work. For the majority of normal workplaces 16.0C is regarded as a minimum, though employers should have regard for comfort issues such as draughts/ventilation; humidity etc. For workplaces where very physical work is undertaken a lower minimum of 13.0C is accepted in law. There are numerous exceptions where it would be impractical to maintain such temperatures (ie cold-stores) where employers must assess how best to provide for the comfort of their staff.

Is there a maximum temperature for my place of work?

No actual upper limit is set - though employers are expected to take all practical steps to try to provide comfort conditions for their employees. For further information see HSE.gov.uk.

Does my employer have a duty to provide me protective clothing for my work?

As far as possible your employer should control workplace hazards at source - ie guarding dangerous machinery. If hazards are still present then the employer should risk assess those hazards and if the assessment shows that personal protective equipment (PPE) will protect staff then the employer should provide such PPE free of charge to his staff. The employer must also train employees on the correct use of PPE and ensure it is properly maintained and stored.

Will working with computers strain or damage my eyes?

Research by the HSE indicates that working with a computer screen will not damage your eyes. However, it can show up deficiencies already present in your vision. It is for this reason that employees who are required to spend significant periods working with computer screens are entitled to an eyesight test periodically - at their employer's expense. To avoid eye strain people should take regular breaks from their computer screen (5 minutes per hour is recommended, and never work for longer than 2 hours without a break).

Is it correct that my computer workstation is supposed to be checked?

The law now requires that all computer workstations should be assessed by the employer. The assessments should be carried out by someone who has been trained.

The issues to be covered include an ergonomic assessment of the workstation, the relative height of the chair - desk - screen; spacing of keyboard and screen; lighting, glare and reflections; arm or wrist resting provision and adjustability to suit different individuals. Getting the workstation right will eliminate most of the strains an employee might otherwise suffer.

How can I tell if a product I work with is hazardous to my health?

All hazardous substances must be labelled to warn the user. The standard warning is a black cross on an orange or yellow background, below which a word showing the grade of hazard is given - 'Irritant; Corrosive; Harmful; Toxic or Very Toxic'. A similar style of warning is often used to warn if a product is highly flammable. These warnings are very important and are why hazardous materials should never be decanted into unlabelled containers.

Is it OK for me to work with hazardous substances?

Employers are required to use the least hazardous products in their workplace. In some instances there may be no alternative but to use a hazardous substance. If this is the case then the employer must properly assess the risks and ensure that practical control measures are put in place. Employees must be given adequate information about the hazards and controls and properly trained to ensure their safety and that of their colleagues. Employees must then comply with their employer's safety controls.

Does an employer have to provide a first aid kit?

Yes. The employer must make an assessment of their likely first aid requirements and then ensure the kit is regularly checked and topped up. This could include a small kit for the vehicle of travelling employees.

Does an employer have to provide a trained first aider?

The employer is required to make an assessment of the likely risks present in the work carried out and where there is a significant risk of injury then an appropriate number of suitably trained first aiders should be provided. In many lower risk work environments a trained first aider may not be required, in which case a 'nominated person' should be appointed. This should be someone who is normally present on site, ideally of a calm disposition who is authorised to summon any necessary assistance in the event of an accident - they do not need to be trained in first aid.

What do I have to do if an accident occurs on my premises?

Firstly, employers must keep a record of all work-related accidents on their premises, or affecting their employees. Secondly, certain accidents are statutorily reportable - see next question.

What accidents must be reported?

All work-related accidents involving the following:-

  • Fatalities
  • All accidents where someone receives a 'major injury' as defined
  • All accidents where an employee is unable to do their normal work for over 7 days
  • All accidents where a member of the public is taken directly to hospital
  • Additionally, all defined 'dangerous occurrences' are reportable
  • Plus all defined work-related diseases are reportable

Where should accidents be reported?

Please direct all reports to the national Incident Contact Centre.

Is there a weight limit for lifting items at work?

No. However, employers are required to consider each employee's capability (there will be differences varying with sex, age, size, build, disability etc.) and should try to avoid any potentially hazardous manual handling wherever possible. If hazardous manual handling cannot be avoided then the employer should carry out an appropriate risk assessment to ensure practical controls are put in place that reduce the likelihood of anyone getting injured.

My workplace seems very noisy. Are there any controls or limits?

Yes. The law puts an upper limit on any individual (very loud) noises plus limits on the average noise to which employees are exposed throughout their working day. If you have difficulty talking to someone within about 1 metre distance then, if that is the normal noise level in that location, the employer needs to have some noise assessments done. Where necessary, noise should be reduced at source and only as a last resort should staff be required to use hearing protection.

The legal controls on noise are in the process of being reviewed - with lower noise limits being introduced.

What are the most common causes of accidents in the workplace?

Below are the most significant causes of accidents in the workplace.

  • Falls from height. This is the greatest cause of deaths at work. Work at height should be avoided whenever possible, or properly risk assessed. Any equipment used must be suitable and properly maintained and staff must be properly trained.
  • Workplace transport. This is the second biggest killer at work. Persons in control of worksites must properly assess hazards from all moving vehicles on site and put in place proper controls:- separating vehicle and pedestrian routes; dedicated parking areas; good signage; speed controls; artificial lighting etc. One significant aim should be to avoid the need for lorries to reverse wherever possible and we would encourage lorry owners to have reversing cameras and warning beepers fitted to their trucks for when reversing cannot be avoided. Effective maintenance of vehicles and properly trained drivers are the other important controls.
  • Slips and trips. Not a common cause of serious injuries but the biggest cause of people being off work - and readily preventable. Slips are usually the result of floor contamination - ie spilt oil, leaking water pipes or building entry points where wet people shed water upon entry. The critical control is to ensure that spillages are quickly and efficiently dealt with and that floor surfaces are chosen for their resistance to slip. Provision of suitable footwear may also be necessary for certain areas. Trips are most readily prevented by good housekeeping - maintaining a tidy workplace.
  • Musculoskeletal disorders. A major cause for work time lost with huge numbers of people suffering chronic injuries. Controls include avoidance of significant manual handling or repetitive tasks and improved workplace and/or task design, plus proper training of staff and supervisors.
  • Stress. Now regarded as the biggest cause of work time lost due to ill health. Larger employers are now expected to have introduced stress management policies appropriate for their business. This involves consulting staff and using other information available (ie sickness records, complaints etc.) to identify hazards present and practical control measures to introduce at their workplace.