Health & safety obligations

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 provides the legislative framework to promote and encourage high standards of health and safety at work.

The act places a duty on the employer (place of worship) to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of employees and anyone who may be affected by its activities. A duty is also placed on all employees to follow any guidelines given to them.

Think about your employees.
Do you know who they are? Be aware employees are not just paid workers. Volunteers count as employees, as do part-time workers, such as organists, cleaners or caretakers.

The general objectives within the scope of legislation are:

  • to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all employees;
  • provide information, instruction, training and adequate supervision to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees;
  • to protect people other than employees against risk to their health and safety arising out of work activities;
  • to identify hazards in the workplace, carry out risk assessments and introduce any control measures necessary;
  • provide a safe place of work with safe access and egress;
  • provide and maintain a healthy working environment including adequate welfare facilities.

Important note
Health and safety is everybody's responsibility.

How to get started

There are many things that you can and should do to keep people safe. All churches, places of worship and their associated activities are different, and what works well for one will not be the same for all.

This guide is not intended to be comprehensive. Instead, we are giving you a brief starting point to help your organisation and to explain the most important parts of Health and Safety as it affects you. We have also given you some links for further information.

Please note this information reflects the current legal position in England and Wales. Whilst the position in Scotland and Northern Ireland is broadly similar, please ensure you take specific advice to make sure you comply.

There are 10 key things which you must do:

  1. Decide how you are going to manage health and safety in your place of worship. If you have 5 or more employees, and don’t forget that volunteers may have to be included in this figure, you must write this management plan down. If you don’t have 5 or more employees, it is still a good idea to record your management plan. This will be your Health and Safety Policy.
  2. Think about what might cause harm to people and how you can take precautions. This is your Risk Assessment.
  3. If you employ anyone you need Employers Liability compulsory insurance and you must display the certificate.
  4. You must provide free health and safety training for your workers, so they know what hazards and risks they may face and how to deal with them.
  5. You must have competent advice to help you meet your health and safety duties. This can be workers from your business, external consultants or advisers or a combination of these.
  6. You need to provide toilets, washing facilities and drinking water for all your employees, including those with disabilities. These are basic health, safety and welfare needs.
  7. You must consult your employees on health and safety matters.
  8. If you have employees, you must display the health and safety law poster or provide them with a leaflet with the same information.
  9. If you are an employer, self-employed or in control of work premises, by law you must report some work-related accidents, diseases and dangerous occurrences.
  10. If you are a new organisation you may need to register either with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or your Local Authority.

For more information, visit the Health and Safety Executive's website and click on the topic of guidance you require.

Please note: the HSE do not provide a general health and safety helpline service but you may report an incident online. A telephone service is available for reporting fatal and major injuries only: 0345 300 9923 (Mon - Fri, 8:30am - 5pm).

Appoint a safety representative

If you have five or more employees you need to have a written Health and Safety policy.

‘Employees’ includes part-time cleaners, organist, caretakers etc. Also volunteers count as employees for this purpose, and anyone who makes use of volunteers is considered to be an employer.

You must give the same level of training, information and protection to both employees and volunteers.

The best advice is that all places of worship should have a written policy that sets out your organisation and procedures for Health and Safety

The Health and Safety Executive has helpful guidance and precedents to assist in understanding which policies are required and how comprehensive they should be.