Employers: Are you doing your job? Understanding your responsibilities for employee training and safety in the UK

7 Dec 2023

As an employer operating in the United Kingdom, ensuring the safety and competence of your workforce is not only a moral obligation but a legal requirement. For companies like RCSC Training, specialising in mobile plant, forklift, access, lifting, trailer towing, and site safety training courses, understanding and fulfilling your responsibilities concerning employee training is paramount.

Employers in the UK have specific legal obligations when it comes to employees and the training that they require for the protection of themselves and others. While basic training provides a fundamental understanding of equipment operation and safety protocols, it’s crucial to follow this up with additional measures to achieve competence and ongoing compliance with regulations. Employers sometimes fail to appreciate that a training course does not in itself produce a competent worker, without ongoing support and training from the employer.

Legal Requirements for Employers

Basic Training

Basic Training is, as the name suggests, basic. But don’t assume that basic means unimportant. In fact, this is probably the most important element of an employee’s training journey. Basic Training forms the foundation upon which skills, experience, and, ultimately, competence is built.

You could build the most magnificent house, with the highest quality fixtures and fittings and exquisite workmanship throughout, but if the house isn’t built on a solid foundation, it could collapse at any moment.

When we talk about Basic Training, what we are referring to is training that covers the core principles of a piece of equipment. Understanding how it works, how we should use it, what its limitations are, what is safe and what is not safe.

When someone learns to drive a car, and passes a driving test, they are not at that stage an experienced driver. Nor are they permitted to drive every type of vehicle we might see on our roads. What they have achieved is to demonstrate that they’ve met a minimum standard required to drive a specific category of vehicle, without supervision and the restrictions associated with being a learner driver.

Familiarisation and Specific Job Training

The provision of familiarisation and specific job training is a legal requirement under the Health and Safety at Work Etc. Act 1974 (HASWA), in addition to a number of Approved Code of Practices (ACOPs).

Familiarisation training involves introducing employees to the particular work environment, equipment, safety procedures and practices specific to their role and workplace. This training should progress the worker from having a basic understanding of the equipment’s capabilities and general principles, applying that knowledge to tasks similar to, or the same as, they will be required to carry out in the workplace. This training should be carried out “off the job” i.e. not in the performance of their duties.

Let’s take a Lorry Loader candidate as an example to illustrate this:

Sam has recently been employed by ABC Transport as an HGV driver and will be required to operate lorry mounted cranes as part of their role. The company cannot release a vehicle for Sam’s two-day novice training course, so they schedule a course with a local training company who provides one.

During the course, Sam learns about the all the basic safety elements of using the crane, and successfully passes all elements of the course. During training, Sam was lifting a 1.5 tonne concrete block using a Palfinger PK29002 with remote control and a single leg chain sling. Because of the size of the crane that was used for the training, Sam’s certificate covers all sizes of crane, including the Fassi F820 that ABC use to lift and transport large containers, up to 40ft long and 8ft wide.

Whilst Sam has demonstrated the basic skills to set up and use a crane safely, they’ve not used a Fassi before. The 1.5t concrete blocks that Sam lifted during training were comparatively small. The loads ABC carry are up to 60 times the size, even though they’re only twice the weight. Because of their size and shape, a single leg chain sling is not suitable for ABC’s containers. Instead, they use four-leg chain slings attached to each corner. For transport, these are secured using twist locks which are integrated into the vehicle’s load bed.

Sam’s training did not include the specific requirements of the Fassi crane; lifting such large loads; using four-leg chain slings to lift loads or twist locks to secure the load. As a result, it’s important that ABC provide Sam with training on these elements to ensure they can do their job safely.

Familiarisation can be delivered by someone internally within the business – for example a suitably qualified and experienced colleague – or by an external provider such as us.

Specific job training focuses on the safe operation of machinery or equipment relevant to the worker’s role. The key difference between Familiarisation and Specific Job training is that Specific Job training takes place “on the job”, typically under the supervision of a line-manager or experienced colleague.

Sticking with our previous scenario, we can apply some context to this:

The morning after Sam’s Lorry Loader training, Sam’s new colleague, Charlie, who had been working as a driver for ABC for the last 10 years, spent a couple of hours with Sam demonstrating the techniques required to handle larger loads such as containers with the crane. They also covered how to access the lifting points at the top of the containers safely and secure the load in preparation for transport. They weren’t actually doing a delivery or collection, so this constituted Sam’s Familiarisation training, as it was “off the job”.

Once they’d completed this, Sam and Charlie left the yard with a container destined for delivery to a local customer. Sam was driving, and when they got to site, Charlie pointed out where the customer wanted the container placed. Charlie was able to give Sam a couple of pointers on where to set the crane up and then supervised whilst Sam prepared to take the load off the lorry.

Once the delivery was complete, they discussed how it had gone and identified a couple of things that Sam could have done differently and the effect that would have had on the job. They repeated this process for the two remaining deliveries that day, with Charlie assisting Sam where required. At the end of the day, Charlie recorded details of what they’d done, and let the transport manager know that Sam was ready to go out and do the job by themselves. This was Sam’s Specific Job training.

Again, this type of training can be delivered by someone internally, or with the help of a professional training provider, like RCSC Training.

In addition to HASAW, employers also have a duty to comply with the requirements of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) and the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER). PUWER necessitates that employees receive adequate training for the safe use of work equipment. LOLER applies to lifting equipment and requires users to be competent, trained, and appropriately supervised.

Another aspect often overlooked by employers is who they are actually responsible for. It is not only direct employees that a company has a duty of care towards, but also to subcontractors. Whilst subcontractors may be employed by a third party, or operating as self-employed, in most cases there is at least some level of responsibility on the main contractor who is engaging them.

Ongoing and Refresher Training

Training is the beginning, not the end! Employers are obligated to provide ongoing training, in line with the relevant ACOPs, especially when employees use equipment infrequently or following accidents or near misses. Even for experienced workers, regular refresher training ensures employees stay up to date with safety procedures, new technologies, and regulatory changes.

ACOPs issued by bodies like the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the British Standards Institution (BSI) often outline the frequency and appropriate content of refresher training.

For most of the courses that we run, the recommended period for refresher training is 3-5 years, assuming the regular performance of duties without accident or incident. What does this mean in practice?

Let’s take a look at another couple of examples:

Example 1

Alex, an apprentice with a local groundworks company called Land Scape, was trained as a novice in the use of an excavator in January. The course lasted 10 days, and covered all the required elements as set out by the accrediting body. Alex really enjoyed the course and returned to work keen to put what had been learned into practice.

However, the job that Land Scape was on at the time didn’t require use of an excavator. Due to the nature of the jobs that came in over the next few months, Alex was not required to use an excavator until November – around 10 months after having completed the novice course.
Because there had been such a big gap between Alex completing the novice course and being able to use a machine, Land Scape decided to book a one-day refresher course. This allowed Alex to be refreshed on the skills that had been picked up on the original course while under the supervision of an appropriately qualified instructor.

When Alex returned to the job, a couple of colleagues provided some Familiarisation and Specific Job training relevant to the tasks in hand before allowing Alex to work the machine for the remainder of the job.

Example 2

Jamie is a Fork Lift Truck operator with Fewsons, a well established builders merchant. Jamie joined the company from a competitor, with evidence of previous training and a CV that showed 7 years of experience. His most recent refresher course was just six months before joining Fewsons, and the expiry date was stated as 2½ years away. They carried out a brief assessment to make sure that they were satisfied with his ability before allowing him to work unsupervised.

After a few months, the branch manager noticed that Jamie had been involved in two incidents resulting in damage to stock. This was more than they would usually experience in such a short space of time. When they looked at the investigation details for the two incidents, they noticed that both involved similar circumstances, so they contacted a reputable training provider. The provider discussed the details of the incidents with Fewsons and carried out some refresher training with Jamie, focusing on the areas that were identified as part of the accident investigation.
Whilst Jamie’s certification was still in date, the fact that they’d been involved in two incidents in a short space of time highlighted a need for additional training.

Adhering to the standards set out in the ACOPs is critical to maintaining a safe work environment. It will also put the organisation on a strong footing in the event of an incident, as any deviation from the ACOP will need to be justified.

Ongoing Supervision and Authorisation

Employers must provide ongoing supervision to ensure employees maintain their competence and follow safety protocols. Supervisors play a pivotal role in overseeing work practices, correcting unsafe behaviours, and reinforcing training.

Moreover, authorisation to use work equipment should be granted to individuals who have received proper training, have demonstrated the required standard, and understand the necessary safety procedures. This authorisation helps to ensure that only qualified personnel are handling potentially hazardous machinery, tools or substances.

Importance of Compliance

Fulfilling these legal obligations isn’t just about avoiding penalties; it’s about safeguarding your workforce, reducing accidents, and maintaining a productive workplace. Not doing so puts employees at risk and can result in legal consequences, fines, and reputational damage to the company.


As an employer, the responsibility to provide comprehensive training, including familiarisation, specific job training, ongoing and refresher training, supervision, and authorisation, is paramount. Compliance with legislation such as HASAW, PUWER, and LOLER is not optional, and ensures a safer and more efficient work environment.

At RCSC Training, we understand the significance of adhering to these regulations and offer specialised courses designed to help employers meet their legal responsibilities while prioritising employee safety and competence. By investing in proper training and continuously updating safety measures, employers can create a culture of safety, proficiency, and compliance within their organisations.

Remember, fulfilling your duties as an employer isn’t just about ticking boxes; it’s about protecting your most valuable asset – your employees.

Common Employer Mistakes

We’ve explored various considerations in this article, but to help you avoid the mistakes we most commonly encounter, here’s our top 3 employer mistakes for you to avoid.

  1. Assuming that workers are competent as soon as they’ve completed basic training.
  2. Treating training as something that is “complete” rather than an ongoing process.
  3. Only organising training when the employee’s certificate is due for expiry.

RCSC Training is committed to promoting safety and excellence in workplace practices through our comprehensive training programs. Contact us to learn more about how we can assist your organisation in meeting its training needs.

Disclaimer: This blog post is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Where necessary, employers should seek guidance from a suitably qualified legal professional to ensure full compliance with any legislation and regulations relevant to the industry and/or activity of the business or organisation to which it pertains.