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Your questions answered - April 23

22 March 2023

Each issue, British Safety Council will use this page to answer YOUR questions. Please send any problems, issues or general enquiries about health, safety and wellbeing to policy@britsafe.org and their experts will respond in future issues.

Q: As a small business owner, what do you advise I do to support my staff's mental health?

Employers have a legal duty to protect their employees from stress at work by doing a risk assessment and then acting on it. If you have fewer than five members of staff you are not required to write anything down, though it’s a good idea to so you can refer to it later. The HSE has a helpful assessment template for this.

There are other ways to support your employees' mental health, which include promoting and creating an open culture where it is safe for employees to discuss their mental health and wellbeing. You can also offer mental health training to your managers and employees to help them spot the signs of mental ill-health and learn how to support each other. 

Encourage your staff to take regular breaks and avoid working outside their regular hours. Also, consider offering flexible working arrangements to help employees achieve a better work-life balance. If you work in construction, transport or logistics, contact our sister charity Mates in Mind.

Q: I often work more than 60 hours a week in my job as a cleaner, can my boss make me do this?

In the UK, the law limits the number of hours an employee can work per week, including any overtime to 48 hours, averaged over a 17-week period. However, employees can choose to work longer hours if they sign a written agreement to opt-out.

If your employer is asking you to work more than 48 hours a week (or more than your agreed hours if lower), they must have your written agreement to opt-out of the maximum working week limit. Even if you have agreed to opt-out, your employer must still ensure that your working hours do not pose a risk to your health and safety.

If you have not agreed to opt-out, your employer cannot force you to work more than 48 hours per week. If your employer tries to force you to work more than the legal maximum, you may have a legal right to refuse to work the additional hours. If you feel uncomfortable discussing the matter with your boss, you can contact the ACAS Helpline or seek advice from a trade union or a legal advisor.

It's important to prioritise your health and wellbeing, and it's not uncommon for employers to request additional work hours during busy periods. However, it's also important to ensure that your employer is following the law and that you are not working excessive hours that could harm your physical and mental health.

Q: There’s a lot of advice and training out there on how to lift a heavy object, but what are your top tips?

Here are some tips when lifting a heavy object, which should help you avoid being injured:

  1. Size up the load - before you lift the object, assess its weight and size. If it is too heavy or awkward to carry alone, get help or use a trolley to move it.

  2. Get in position - stand close to the object with your feet shoulder-width apart, with one foot slightly ahead of the other for balance. Bend at your knees, not your waist, and keep your back straight. Tighten your stomach muscles to support your spine.

  3. Get a good grip - use both hands to get a good grip on the object. If the object has handles, use them. If not, hug the object close to your body to help distribute the weight evenly.

  4. Lift smoothly - straighten your legs slowly as you lift the object. Avoid jerking or twisting your body, as this can strain your back muscles.

  5. Move carefully - walk slowly and carefully with the load, keeping it close to your body. Avoid twisting your body or bending sideways, as this can cause strain on your back muscles.

  6. Lower the object - when you reach your destination, lower the object by bending your knees and keeping your back straight. Avoid dropping or throwing the object, which can cause injury to yourself or others.

Finally, remember to take breaks and rest as needed, and always seek help or use equipment when lifting objects that you think are too large or heavy for you to handle on your own.

Don’t forget to submit YOUR questions to policy@britsafe.org