Employer's Duty of Care

By Freddie Eyre
01 Dec 2023

As an employer, you have responsibilities for your staff. This includes ensuring their wellbeing and their health and safety.

In this article, we’ll look at common law, your duty of care towards your employees, and how your business can put together a method statement.

If you need immediate advice or support get in touch with our Health & Safety consultants on 0800 470 2878.

health and safety regulations around duty of care in employment law

What is the employer duty of care?

An employer's duty of care encompasses a number of responsibilities. The first, and most obvious, is the main overarching duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all your employees.

This includes:

  • Mental health and safety risks.

There is also a duty of care for employers to ensure the health, safety and welfare of non-employees. For example, contractors, visitors, and clients.

The HSE definition of an employer ‘Duty of Care' is outlined below:

“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.”

Importance of duty of care

There are many reasons the duty of care should matter to you as an employer.

First, a safe work environment is a productive work environment. If staff have concerns regarding their wellbeing, their attitude towards work will be less positive. Actively promoting employee wellbeing will increase employee engagement. This will make your retention rate significantly better.

Second, an unsafe workplace will suffer major reputational damage, particularly if an incident occurs. If an employee suffers from a work-related illness or an accident occurs, they will hold you responsible. It can also lead to employment tribunals.

Duty of care is a legal duty. Failure to provide adequate health & safety for your employees can lead to visits to the HSE and significant fines. Next, we’ll look at exactly what you should provide.

employees in a working environment, carrying out a duty of care towards each other as per the risk assessments.

Company obligations to employees

An employer’s duty of care includes health & safety. You must ensure that suitable safety standards are created with associated safe systems of work implemented. This includes employees who work from home.

Within this definition is a duty for employee mental wellbeing. That means safeguarding them from harassment and stress.

You can achieve this in several ways. Some methods of doing this fall under your obligation as an employer. Others don’t.

Here are some ways you can ensure your staff are safe, both mentally and physically:

  • Provide health & safety training.
  • Protect staff from discrimination.
  • Manage and address staff misconduct.
  • Manage and address grievances promptly and effectively.
  • Provide adequate equipment required to complete tasks.

a person stood in their working environment as a farmer making reasonable precautions for their physical health.

Duty of Care law

The Health and Safety at Work Act in the UK reflects the statutory duties you have as an employer. For example, the law requires you to carry out a risk assessment. This will address all risks that might cause harm in your workplace.

Another common law regarding the duty of care to employees is consultation. Legally, you must consult employees on any health & safety risks they’ll face as part of their role.

These are just some of your responsibilities from a health & safety standpoint. To find out more about what the law requires of you, get health & safety support today.

And remember—If you cannot do everything that is reasonably possible to prevent an accident or work-related illness, then you are likely to be in breach of duty of care.

Mental health

Earlier, we touched briefly on the fact that mental health falls under the umbrella of an employer’s duty of care. There are many aspects to mental health in the workplace, but the most common issues are stress, depression, and anxiety.

It's tricky to have conversations regarding these issues in the workplace, but they are vital to ensuring wellbeing and productivity.

There are ways to manage mental health in the workplace. One employee benefit that has come under the spotlight in recent months is the employee assistance programme (EAP).

An EAP provides your employees with a support network outside of work. It involves a network of counsellors and mental health experts to provide support to your employees.  You can find out more about our EAP here.

We also have some resources available for dealing with issues like stress in the workplace.

Employee assistance programme, aims at helping employees health and is good business practice to offer it to the employees.

Examples of duty of care

A simple but effective example of your duty of care would be this:

An employee informs their manager they’re suffering from Repetitive Strain Injury in their wrists. As an employer, you can then provide them with a specialist keyboard. This will allow them to continue working normally until they recover.

Another example would be to provide extra access points for those in your business with a disability. This will ensure they don’t struggle to exit and enter your premises and show that you take their well-being seriously.

What is a method statement?

A method statement (also known as a plan of work, safe system of work or work method statement) is a type of health & safety document, typically used in high-risk roles and industries.

It’s called that because it outlines the method workers must use to carry out a particular role safely.

For some industries, it’s essential that they have a method statement, meaning you need to assess whether your workplace falls under this category.

They are most used in the construction sector but can be used in any industry.

A method statement can help you to avoid employment tribunal if you follow the rules, and carry out risk assessments to complete a duty of care.

Legal obligation

Unlike risk assessments, a method statement isn’t a legal obligation. So why should you have one?

Firstly, it allows you to showcase high levels of quality safety measures. This will mean your workplace is viewed more favourably and give you a competitive edge.

They are particularly relevant in the tendering process and can result in more business for you in the long term.

That’s not all, however. There is also a practical purpose of a method statement.

What is the purpose of a method statement?

Like a risk assessment, the document should identify potential hazards that may occur during a particular task or within a certain role. It should outline the precautions you need to put in place, and the ones the workers need to take.

Keep the statement as simple as possible to avoid misinterpretation or confusion. Make sure everyone who is involved, reads, and understands the statement.

Ultimately, the safety of your staff is your main concern, and the statement should help you maintain this. With this in mind, remember, this document does not replace a risk assessment.

You can use risk and method statements in tandem. They complement each other well. There is even a term for this: risk assessment method statements (RAMS). This refers to the two documents together.

Always conduct a risk assessment first, as this will help identify the hazards you need to address in your statement. Use the method document to expand on the control measures and detail how, when, and why you should implement them.

One other document that relates to both of the above is a permit to work. The permit authorises particular people to do certain types of work. This is essential for those taking on specific, high-risk tasks, such working at height and working with asbestos.

We’d recommend carrying out all these processes before asking an individual to undertake dangerous work.

an employee needing a duty of care, to avoid workplace risks and risk factors from working excessive hours

How to write a method statement?

First, you need to know what will be in the document. We’ll provide a work method statement example at the end of this article. Before that, there are a couple of main areas you need to cover:

Basic information

This section should include:

  • Project name and reference.
  • A summary of the work.
  • The location of the work.
  • Start and expected completion dates for the work.
  • Details about your company—include name, address, and contact details.
  • Named health & safety contacts.

Further information

This section should include:

  • First aid procedures, details of the qualified on-site first aider.
  • Details of Permit to Work and any other legal requirements.
  • Details of staff training that is required.
  • All necessary equipment provided, such as scaffolding, plant, etc.
  • The personal protective equipment (PPE) you’ll provide.
  • Disposal of waste arrangements.

Identifying and Managing risks

This section should clearly outline all risks presented by the work being undertaken. You should provide step-by-step instructions and highlight all the control measures you are putting in place to protect workers.

a lady completeing the duty of care to her employees, as a legal requirement and ethical duty.

Get expert advice

Every workplace is different, so each will have its own risks to tackle. Our method statement example template is general, so will need to be tailored to your organisation.

If you need any further support managing health & safety in your workplace, contact a Croner expert on 0800 470 2878.

About the Author

a photo of Freddie Eyre

Freddie is our Health and Safety Team Manager. Having worked in the industry for over six years, Freddie advises our clients in all things health and safety, and helps to ensure that they are compliant with the latest legislation.