The Health and Safety at Work Act Explained | British Safety Council

The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 is the primary piece of legislation governing workplace health and safety in Great Britain. There are also main pieces of regulation which are integral to managing health and safety at work. The implementation of these regulations does not have to be a daunting, time consuming or costly affair. Follow our guide to workplace health and safety legislation in the UK for a summary of the key policies and procedures and understand what you need to do to keep your work environment healthy, safe and compliant.

What is the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974?

The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, sometimes referred to as HSW, HASAW 1974 or HASAWA, is an Act of Parliament that sets out the framework for managing workplace health and safety in the UK.

The act defines the general duties of everyone from employers (section 2) and employees (section 7,8) to owners, managers and maintainers of work premises (etc) for maintaining health and safety within most workplaces.

There is, however, further specific legislation for business sectors that operate within a higher risk environment, such as the construction industry, chemical manufacturing, etc.

The act itself is a primary piece of legislation set out by the government. Other regulations which complement the HASAWA 1974 are known as statutory instruments (essentially secondary pieces of legislation that may also be referred to as delegated legislation).

Statutory instruments serve to make small changes, updates or additions to existing legislation without having to create an entirely new Bill.

Who enforces Health and Safety Legislation?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is the governmental appointed body that is responsible for enforcing workplace health and safety legislation in the UK. However, when it comes to enacting enforcement, this responsibility is generally divided between the HSE and relevant local authorities.

What are the main workplace health and safety regulations?

As previously mentioned, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 is the principal piece of legislation for occupational health and safety in Great Britain, however, there are other regulations to implement which are designed to keep your workplace compliant and safe.

Below is a summary of the main pieces of health and safety regulation that most workplaces will need to comply with, although further or more specific regulations may also be relevant dependent on specific business areas or industries:

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974

As a brief overview, the HASAWA 1974 requires that workplaces provide:

  • Adequate training of staff to ensure health and safety procedures are understood and adhered to
  • Adequate welfare provisions for staff at work
  • A safe working environment that is properly maintained and where operations within it are conducted safely
  • Suitable provision of relevant information, instruction and supervision

For workplaces with five or more employees, employers must keep a written record of their health and safety policy, as well as consult with employees (or employee representatives) on relevant policies and associated health and safety arrangements.

Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992

The health, safety and welfare (HSW) regulations apply to all aspects of the working environment and require employers to provide a workplace that is not only safe but also suitable for the duties that are being carried out within it.

This ranges from provisions for the comfort and sanitation of employees (e.g. break areas, washing facilities, drinking water etc.) to provisions for appropriate working environments (e.g. room dimensions, lighting and ventilation etc.) and provisions for safety in the workplace (e.g. appropriate maintenance of equipment, properly maintained walking routes and floor spaces, protection from falling objects etc.).

For a full breakdown of the duties and requirements, refer to the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulation itself. The HSE also has a downloadable Code of Practice for further guidance.

Display Screen Equipment Regulations (DSE) 1992 (amended 2002)

The DSE Regulations require that, as well as providing a suitable workstation for their DSE users (which the HSE defines as ‘workers who use DSE daily, for an hour or more at a time’) employers must also take steps to ‘protect workers from the health risks of working with display screen equipment (DSE), such as PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones’.

According to government guidance, to remain compliant with DSE regulations, and to protect the health of DSE users, employers must:

  • Carry out a suitable DSE workstation assessment
  • Reduce associated risks, including making sure workers take regular breaks from DSE work and provide ancillary equipment if required
  • Provide an eye and eyesight test (free of charge) upon request from a DSE user
  • Provide relevant training and information for DSE users

We offer a short, online Display Screen Equipment course to teach your employees how to correctly set up and use their workstations. The course also includes a DSE self-assessment to help employers remain compliant with regulation.

Personal Protective Equipment Regulations (PPE) 2018

Some working environments present significant risks to employee health and safety (e.g. from falling materials, contact with hazardous substances, contaminated air, extremes of temperature etc.).

In such environments, there is a duty on the employer to provide their workers with personal protective equipment (PPE) to reduce the potential risk of harm when it cannot be reduced or mitigated by any other means (“last resort” principle).

A suitable and sufficient risk assessment must be carried out, prior to providing PPE, to determine that potential risk cannot be mitigated through other control measures.

PPE includes, but is not limited to, high-visibility clothing, protective footwear, safety helmets, eye protection, safety harnesses and even respiratory protective equipment (RPE).

The Key factors of PPE regulation are:

Suitable provision - where it has been assessed that PPE is required, the provision of PPE must be suitable and appropriate to the work-task and its associated risk i.e. the equipment must fit the user properly and be of a proportionate size and weight for them to use it. ‘The equipment must also be CE marked in accordance with the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2002.

Compatibility and effectiveness - where more than one item of equipment must be worn for any given task, the PPE items must still be effective when worn together. The wearing of one item (e.g. protective eyewear) must not cause the other item to be ill-fitting, and therefore ineffective (e.g. a respirator) and vice versa.

Maintenance and storage – PPE must be properly looked after, maintained and stored. Reusable items must be properly cleaned and kept in good condition. If items have disposable parts (e.g. respirator filters) replacements parts must be properly compatible with the original piece of equipment.

Considerations such as having replacement PPE available (in the event of damage or malfunction) and appointing someone to oversee how and when items are maintained are important too.

Use and training – It’s the duty of the employer to ensure that employees have correct training on the use of PPE, what level of responsibility that the employee has towards the maintenance of PPE and that they are properly informed about the risks that the PPE is protecting them from. It is also the responsibility of the employer to ensure that any PPE provided is being used correctly.

Employee responsibility – The duty of the employee is to use PPE in accordance with instruction and training. Employees also have a responsibility to report any damage, defects or loss of equipment that they are aware of.

It should be noted that wherever PPE has been identified as being required as part of the control measure provision, then this must be provided at no cost to the employee (this includes replacement of such equipment).

Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations require that an employer must suitably assess work-based activities and implement any appropriate controls to manage potential risks to the health, safety and welfare of employees (and others).

What are the responsibilities of the employer?

Employers have a duty to:

  • Provide adequate and proportional health and safety training for employees
  • Ensure that there are suitable procedures in place in the event of an emergency event
  • In workplaces where employees may be exposed to noise, vibration, substances hazardous to health, etc, there may be a requirement for provision of relevant health surveillances too
  • Carry out a suitable and sufficient assessment of risks presented to the health, safety and welfare of employees (and others) through operational activities
  • Carry out specific such risk assessments presented to the vulnerable person(s)
  • Appoint competent person(s) to manage workplace health and safety

What are the responsibilities of the employee?

It is the employee’s responsibility to ensure that they are working in accordance with the health and safety training that they have been provided. They must also utilise any controls and/or equipment provided in the interest of health and safety.

If an employee identifies an unsafe condition, hazard or risk within the workplace, then they must notify whoever is responsible for health and safety in that working environment.

Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR)

Whilst it’s paramount to take reasonable measures to prevent death, injury or illness in the workplace, if any of these incidents do arise from work-related activity, it’s also a requirement, under RIDDOR regulation, that they are reported formally.

The HSE’s RIDDOR page has detailed guidance on what is defined as a reportable incident, who should report it, how and when to report it and guidance on how to keep a record of it too.

Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 (amended 2002) (MHOR)

According to the HSE definition,  ‘manual handling relates to the moving of items either by lifting, lowering, carrying, pushing or pulling’. Each of these movements (or indeed a combination of them) involves a potential risk of injury.

Accordingly, an employer must:

  • Avoid hazardous manual handling operations, so far as is reasonably practicable, by redesigning the task to avoid moving the load or by automating or mechanising the process.
  • Make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risk of injury from any hazardous manual handling operations that cannot be avoided.
  • Reduce the risk of injury from those operations so far as is reasonably practicable. Where possible, provide mechanical assistance, for example, a sack trolley or hoist. Where this is not reasonably practicable then explore changes to the task, the load and the working environment

We offer a Level 2 Award in Manual Handling Risk Assessment. The qualification is aimed at individuals who have the responsibility to carry out a risk assessment for manual handling in the workplace and provides them with the knowledge and skills necessary to carry out that risk assessment.

Which workplaces do these health and safety regulations apply to?

Health and safety legislation applies to all business sectors, and it is therefore the responsibility of the employer to ensure that health and safety is effectively managed within the workplace.

However, the approach taken should be proportionate to the nature and size of the business, as well as the risk level of the business activity. For the majority of small businesses with a low-risk environment, managing health and safety in the workplace should be a relatively straightforward matter.