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The Legal Column

27 January 2012

The experts at Workplace Law address your legislative and compliance issues.

Grit / salt on iced areas
Q: What are employers’ / landlords’ responsibilities in respect of making roads, car parks and footpaths safe during periods of snow and ice? Is it true that we are only liable should an accident occur if we have treated or tried to clear away the snow and ice?

A: The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, Section 3, clearly states that the employer owes a duty of care to all those affected by their work. If an accident occurs on your premises as a result of slipping on ice, for example, an injured party could prosecute. However, if an employer has made an effort to manage a foreseeable risk of slipping by gritting / sweeping away snow and ice then this will be looked on more favourably than if no effort was made.

Company relocation
Q: We are moving offices and will need all employees to work from the new location. Can we change their contracts to show this new address as their new workplace and what happens if they do not agree to work from the new office?

A: The action you need to take, and the degree to which you can enforce the relocation to the new office, is dependent on how far the new location is from the old location, and the resultant impact on each individual's journey time to get to the new premises.

If the new office is very close to the old office and is easy to get to by public transport and car travel, then each member of staff should be consulted about the move and receive a letter confirming the change of location and the effective date.

If the location is much further afield or will be considerably longer / more difficult to reach as a result of the new location, you may need to consult for longer; consider travel expenses to counter the difference or where the journey is severely disrupted, you may even need to consider redundancy consultation with affected employees.

There are no hard and fast rules about what would be deemed 'unreasonable' in terms of distance or time added to the employee's journey; therefore you will need to take a consistent and reasonable approach to each case. Every step should be followed up in writing to show you have undertaken appropriate steps.

Weight limits
Q: We store raw material in large bins which are then lifted by a forklift truck. Currently the bins do not have any weight limits on them and we have been informed that legally the bins should be marked with maximum weights. Please can you advise if this is the case?

A: It is law that the forklift truck is labelled with the safe working load (SWL), but, regarding the bins, the weight will change all the time so I don't see how you can label it. However, you need to satisfy yourself that you DO NOT exceed the safe working load when the bins are at full capacity.

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