Whistleblower Protection – Spilling The Health And Safety Beans!
Copyright (c) 2011 Robert Gray
Employers have a duty to their employees to ensure that there is no risk to their health whilst in the work place. Employers are required to do this by carrying out relevant risk assessments of the work place, ensuring that all machinery and equipment is in good working order and is properly maintained and making sure that the work place as a whole is free from hazards.
Usually if an employee is concerned that something, or somebody, at work is posing a risk to their health, and/or the health of others , they discuss the matter with a senior member of staff, such as a line manager, and the employee’s concerns are discussed in full. It would then be best practice for the employer to fully investigate the employees concerns in order to eliminate any risk that may be posed.
However, in the event that the employee’s concerns are not taken seriously by the employer, or the employer fails to take any adequate steps to rectify the situation, the employee may feel that there is still cause for concern and that the issue needs to be directed elsewhere. The employee may decide to report the matter to, for example, the HSE, police or media who may investigate. ‘The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998’ provides protection for an employee who reports his concerns – i.e. ‘blows the whistle’ on his employer. The act states that an employee who makes a disclosure about his concerns regarding a safety issue should not be treated detrimentally by his employer. The purpose of the act is allow concerns to be addressed and put right before harm is caused. If the act was not in place employees may feel less protected and therefore may be less likely to ‘blow the whistle’ on what are probably very genuine health and safety concerns.
Examples of whistleblowing include reports of untrained or inadequately trained nurses administering medication to patients, fraudulent expenses claims, inaccurate description of products or misuse of equipment.
It would benefit both the employer and employee if the employer had a ‘whistle blowing policy’ in place. This would address the correct manner in which to raise concerns in the workplace, such as who the employee should report the concerns to and in what manner. This may reduce the need for the matter to be taken elsewhere and will help to preserve the relationship between the employee and employer, and also the employer’s reputation. It is often the case that the employer is the person best placed to rectify any safety issue anyway so if matters can be discussed and investigated without the whistle being blown then this can be to the benefit of all involved.