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Introduction to Workplace Health and Safety: An Overview

This introduction is intended to give you an overview of the eight key aspects of workplace health and safety in workplaces, including:

  • The Internal Responsibility System,
  • Worker and employer’s responsibilities,
  • Workplace health and safety policy and programs,
  • Health & safety committees and representatives,
  • Hazard identification and control,
  • Investigating incidents, and
  • Safety training.


The Internal Responsibility System

Occupational health and safety in workplaces is operationalized through the practice of the internal responsibility system, which underpins most federal and provincial safety law.

What is the Internal Responsibility System? The Internal Responsibility System (IRS) is the foundation of the Occupational Health and Safety. Under the IRS, since all “workplace parties” influence what a workplace is like, they must all share responsibility for making the workplace safer and healthier. It sets out the responsibilities and duties of all parties. ‘Workplace parties’ means anyone connected with a particular workplace. This can include employers, contractors, constructors, employees and the self-employed, as well as owners and suppliers.

Do all workplace parties share responsibility equally? It states that all workplace parties share responsibility for safety to the extent of their authority and ability to do so. An employer, for example, would ordinarily have more responsibility for workplace health and safety than would a supplier of goods.

As an employee, if I share in the responsibility for health and safety at my workplace, I’d like to have more “say” in how things are done. Under the Act, all workers have three basic rights.

  • The right to know about hazards and issues that affect your health and safety.
  • The right to refuse work that you feel is unsafe or unhealthy for you or someone else
  • The right to participate in your own safety, eg. on health and safety committees or as a Health and Safety Representative. You also have the right to report unsafe conditions, and voice your concerns or opinions on any issue that affects your health and safety, or the health and safety of anyone at the workplace.

Workers’ Responsibilities:

  • Follow the company’s safety rules, policies, and safe-work procedures;
  • Take every precaution to protect personal safety and that of others;
  • Wear personal protective equipment as required by the employer or by the law;
  • Use machinery, equipment, and materials only as authorized by the employer; and
  • Report all hazardous incidents and situations, and near misses

Workplace Health and Safety Policy and Programs

Workplace policies are the written rules that the employer has put in place. When it comes to workplace safety, a written policy shows the employer’s commitment to a safe workplace. It lets workers know that safety is a priority throughout the organization and that unsafe practices are not acceptable. All workplaces have a legislated responsibility to ensure a healthy and safe work environment for their workers, and this includes having a safety policy in place.

Workplace Safety Programs

Employers who have more than 20 people regularly working for them need to have a safety program in place. Think of the safety policy as the rule the company has said it will follow, and the safety program as the map that tells workers how that rule will be followed. Workplaces can include any number of safety practices developing in their program, but the law does require employers to do and have certain things in their safety program, including ways to identify, report, assess and control hazards, and investigate incidents and injuries.

Depending on how a business is set up, the work that it does, and the types of hazards that go along with that work, safety programs will look different and include different practices. For instance, hospitals and restaurants will both have infection control safety practices in place, but it will look different in each workplace.

Extent of the employer’s primary duty to protect workers’ health and safety

Under the Philippine Labor Code, Republic Act (RA) No. 11058 (the Occupational Safety and Health Law) (the OSH Law) and its implementing rules and regulations (IRR), employers are mandated to:

  • furnish the workers with a place of employment free from hazardous conditions that are causing or are likely to cause death, illness or physical harm to the workers;
  • give complete job safety instructions or orientation to all the workers, especially to those entering the job for the first time, including those relating to familiarization with their work environment;
  • inform the workers of the hazards associated with the workplace health risks to which they are exposed, preventive measures to eliminate or minimize risk, and steps to be taken in the case of emergency;
  • only use approved devices and equipment for the workplace;
  • comply with Occupational Safety and Health Standards (OSHS), including training, medical examination and, where necessary, the provision of protective and safety devices such as personal protective equipment and machine guards;
  • allow workers and their health and safety representatives to participate actively in the process of organizing, planning, implementing and evaluating the health and safety programme to improve health and safety in the workplace; and
  • provide, where necessary, for measures to deal with emergencies and accidents including first-aid arrangements.

Does the employer owe a duty to protect the health and safety of third parties? If so, what is the nature and extent of this duty?

Relevant regulations do not explicitly mention that the employer must ensure the health and safety of people that are not employed by it. However, the employer is mandated to maintain a safe workplace. Thus, it can be argued that the employer must at least ensure that the workplace poses no danger to any person within the premises.

Nature and extent of the employer’s duty to ensure safe work premises

The OSH IRR defines a workplace as any site or location where workers must be present or go to because of their work, and that is under the direct or indirect control of the employer, including, but not limited to, work areas, employee lounges and restrooms, conference and classroom spaces, employee cafeterias, hallways and emergency access.

The employer is required to equip the workplace free from hazardous conditions that are causing or likely to cause death, illness or physical harm to the workers. Accordingly, the OSHS requires the employer to provide the necessary facilities, such as:

  • adequate fire, emergency or danger signage and safety instructions of standard colours and sizes to be visible at all times;
  • provisions for handicapped employees;
  • good housekeeping;
  • personal facilities, such as adequate comfort rooms and lavatories, adequate changing rooms for female workers and locker rooms for male workers; and
  • a first-aid treatment room or clinic.

Under the OSH IRR, whenever two or more undertakings are engaged in activities simultaneous in one workplace, it shall be the duty of all concerned to collaborate and cooperate to ensure compliance with the OSHS.

Employer’s duties and responsibilities regarding the provision of safe plant and equipment

The employer must provide first-aid medical services, steps must be taken to prevent danger to the workers from any live electric cable or equipment either by rendering the cable or apparatus electrically dead or by providing barriers to prevent contact, and all moving parts of machinery used shall be guarded. Fire protection equipment and personal protective equipment must also be provided by the employer.

Rules and requirements govern employers’ response to and reporting of workplace accidents

All employers are required to submit to the Department of Labor and Employment an employer’s work accident or injury report (WAIR) for every accident or illness, and an annual work accident or injury exposure data report (AEDR).

Rules, requirements, procedures and best practices should employers be aware of when conducting occupational risk and hazard assessments

Under the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Labor Advisory No. 4 series of 2019, the establishment shall be responsible for determining its own level of risk classification (low, medium or high) based on a Hazards Identification and Risk Assessment and Control (HIRAC) conducted by the company. HIRAC results and the number of workers shall be the basis for determining the required number of safety officers, occupational health personnel, medical services and facilities.