Health and Safety Management Responsibilities

1. Introduction

On the recommendation of the Health and Safety Management Sub-committee, and prompted by the recent publication of the University and College Employers’ Association (UCEA) document ‘Leading Health and Safety at Work’, Council instigated a review of health and safety leadership in the University. The report of the review was published recently in the University Gazette[1] and may be downloaded from

One of the key findings of the Review Panel was that the roles and responsibilities of various parties in health and safety management were not always well understood and required some clarification. This policy is intended to provide a summary of the University’s arrangements for managing health and safety and is intended to help those involved discharge their duties effectively.

2. Council and the health and safety committee structure

Council is the University's executive governing body and has overall responsibility for managing the University’s corporate risks, including those relating to health and safety. Council has delegated responsibility for deciding the University’s health and safety management strategy and formulating safety policy to the Health and Safety Management Sub-committee (HSMSC).

The committee comprises senior officers of the University, including the heads of the four divisions, and up to four co-opted members.  Its membership is shown in Appendix 1. The Chair of HSMSC is appointed by Council and may be invited to attend Council to report on health and safety matters. To assist HSMSC in formulating policy there are specialist advisory groups in the areas of occupational health, biological safety and radiation protection.

Council is also supported by the Consultative Committee for Health and Safety (CCHS), which is the University’s forum for consultation on health and safety matters[2]. As well as representatives from the three recognised trade unions and the specialist advisory groups, there are representatives of departmental administrators and departmental safety officers, area and divisional safety officers, undergraduate and postgraduate students.

3. Heads of division

Divisional heads are responsible for the oversight of departmental arrangements for health and safety within their division, to provide assurance that they are functioning in accordance with the University's policies. Heads of division should

  • Ensure that the full range of health and safety risks are considered across the division and those with the highest priority or impact are recorded in Divisional Risk Registers.
  • Include health and safety in their divisional plans.
  • Clarify with departmental, faculty and unit heads the relative roles and responsibilities for health and safety within the Division and foster improved communication on health and safety matters within the Division.
  • Ensure systems are in place for briefing newly appointed managers and supervisors on their health and safety responsibilities, including the responsibility to ensure the take up by staff and students of relevant training.
  • Collaborate with the University Safety Office in a 6-yearly review of health and safety, conducted on behalf of HSMSC and reported to Council.
  • Ensure that the health and safety implications of new research or novel technology are fully considered.

4. Heads of department

Heads of department are responsible for the health and safety of staff, students and visitors in all areas under their control, and are responsible for ensuring compliance with relevant legislation and the application of University safety policy in those areas.

In the Humanities Division, which does not operate with a departmental structure, health and safety is the responsibility of faculty board chairs, but for brevity those individuals are also referred to here as heads of department.

Heads of department may delegate certain responsibilities for health and safety to individuals with authority for day-to-day management of others, such as line managers or supervisors. However heads retain ultimate responsibility for safety matters and remain accountable to Council for the department’s safety performance. A list of the most important safety responsibilities is provided in appendix 2 to help heads of departments discharge their duties.

5. Supervisors and line managers

In this context, supervisor refers to both academic supervisors and to those who direct or manage the activities of others on a day-to-day basis. Supervisors and line managers have a key role to play in delivering good quality work and good health and safety performance.  A summary of their responsibilities is provided in Appendix 3 and these are described more fully in University Policy Statement S1/09 (

6. Employees

In law, employees have a responsibility for their own safety and for others who may be affected by their acts or omissions. They can discharge this by following University safety policy and any local departmental rules, and in particular they must

  • Familiarise themselves with relevant University or departmental policies and safety requirements applicable to their work.
  • Inform their supervisors/line managers of newly identified risks in existing work, or new risks associated with new work.
  • Comply fully with safety requirements and control measures, including the correct use of personal protective equipment, stipulated in risk assessments or local rules.
  • Take reasonable care in all work activities and consult with supervisors or safety officers in any case of doubt.
  • Familiarise themselves with relevant emergency procedures.
  • Be aware of potentially unsafe conditions or equipment and report them to supervisors/line managers.
  • Report accidents, incidents, near misses and work-related ill-health promptly so that remedial action can be taken to prevent recurrence.
  • Register with the University Occupational Health Service for health surveillance, where required by University policy or risk assessment, and attend appointments where these have been arranged.
  • Attend any training that has been identified as necessary by their supervisor/line manager.

They must not:

  • Misuse equipment or interfere with safety devices or safety systems which are required for the safe operation of that equipment (e.g. disabling interlocks on electrophoresis equipment, centrifuges, UV transilluminators, or removing guards from machinery), or which are designed to alert operators to an unsafe condition (e.g. by covering fire or gas detector heads, or disabling airflow alarms on microbiological safety cabinets or fume cupboards).
  • Disregard the safety provisions set out in risk assessments or local rules.

The University’s disciplinary procedures may be used in cases of serious and wilful non-compliance with safety requirements, although every effort will be first made to resolve such matters informally.

7. Visiting workers

The University has a legal duty to safeguard the health and safety of all visitors to its premises, including visiting workers and those with emeritus status. They are expected to cooperate with the University in the discharge of its duties and to comply with any arrangements in place to manage their health and safety while on the premises.

The extent to which a visiting worker or retired academic is embedded in a department’s safety management arrangements will be determined by the duration of their stay and the nature and complexity of the work being undertaken. The scope of the work should be clarified and documented in a formal agreement, which clearly demarcates areas of responsibility including those who have a supervisory role for the visitor. The agreement should also clearly state the University’s expectations regarding the visitor’s cooperation and compliance in matters of health and safety. Suitable forms of words for this may be obtained from Research Services (see  Visiting workers and persons with emeritus status are expected to comply with safety procedures in the same manner as employees. Where they disregard safety provisions then they are exposing the University to risk and departments should take action to address this.

8. Students

In health and safety law, students are classed as visitors and the University has a duty to safeguard their health and safety. The University expects students to cooperate with all measures provided for health and safety and they are expected to follow the provisions set out in section 6. Serious and wilful non-compliance with safety provisions by students may be referred to the Proctors for disciplinary action, although every effort will be first made to resolve such matters informally.

9. Departmental, Area and Divisional Safety Officers (DSOs,  ASOs and DivSOs)

The DSO’s role is to provide advice and, through inspection and audit, to provide assurance of compliance with safety policies. Their duties are described fully in University Policy Statement S1/01 ( DSOs do not have an executive role, unless this is additionally specified in a statement of safety organisation. The DSO role is almost without exception a part-time one, which post holders combine with academic, administrative or technical responsibilities in their departments.

ASOs and DivSOs are full-time safety staff appointed by divisions to enhance departmental safety systems in higher risk departments or groups of departments (principally science or clinical departments). ASOs/DivSOs provide assistance to DSOs in their various administrative, monitoring and advisory duties.

Note that DSOs, ASOs/DivSOs are safety advisors. Responsibility for health and safety lies with the head of department and is usually delegated to supervisors and line managers. It should not be assumed to be the responsibility of the ASO/DivSO/DSO.

10. University Safety Office

The Safety Office supports the University’s research and teaching activities by providing competent advice and assurance of legal compliance. Its main functions are:

  • providing advice to all University departments, institutions, staff, and students on all aspects of health and safety, including fire and radiation protection
  • providing a wide range of safety training courses
  • carrying out safety audits
  • investigating serious accidents and incidents
  • liaising with enforcing agencies (e.g. Health and Safety Executive, Environment Agency, Fire Service)
  • advising OUES and its consultants on the health and safety aspects of designs for new buildings/building refurbishments
  • providing a hazardous waste disposal service
  • managing programmes of health and safety improvements, e.g. fire precautions, containment facilities in laboratories handling dangerous pathogens
  • managing a mini-minor works budget that can contribute funding towards safety improvements in departments
  • managing the University’s fire alarm contract
  • drafting safety policies that ensure the University complies with relevant legislation
  • servicing the University’s safety committees (the Consultative Committee for Health and Safety and the Health and Safety Management Sub-committee) which consider and approve draft safety policies on behalf of Council.


The Safety Office is available to advise departmental heads, administrators and safety officers where necessary. All University staff and students are free to contact the Safety Office directly on matters of concern, although it is preferable to first attempt to resolve issues locally so as not to undermine local safety arrangements.


Revised April 2016                                                                                                                  A C Kendall

[1] Supplement (2) to no.492, Vol.141



May 2011