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The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 – Simplified

What is the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974?

When it comes to the crunch, most things Health and Safety in the UK link back to the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASWA).

It remains the main piece of law that relates to workplace health and safety in Great Britain.

There are also regulations which support the Health and Safety at Work Act. These provide more specific detail of what businesses should do to keep their workplaces safe and healthy.

In this guide, we’ll provide you with some context around what HASWA is, how it is applied and why it affects your business.

Is the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 important?

We are big fans of keeping things simple. With that in mind, almost any workplace situation can be looked at in the context of HASWA to quickly give us an idea of whether we are doing things right.

To give some real context to the importance of the HASWA and those regulations we mentioned, you only have to look at recent prosecutions by the Health and Safety Executive (UK). Don’t take our word for it, have a look at the latest cases on the HSE press page here….

As you can see, many of the issues relate directly to the Health and Safety at Work Act. It’s also clear that the supporting regulations e.g. Work at Height, play a pivotal part when it comes to employer’s responsibility.

Putting in place safe working practices does not always have to be a daunting, time consuming or costly affair. Any investment towards good health and safety should be proportionate to the level of risk in your business.

Let’s look into the HASWA in some more depth….

What does the Health and Safety at Work Act say?

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 sets out the legal framework for managing workplace health and safety in the UK.

The act outlines the general duties of everyone from employers and employees to owners, managers and operators of work premises for maintaining health and safety within most workplaces.

There is, however, more specific guidance for certain activities and business sectors that operate within a higher risk environment. Such as the construction industry, chemical manufacturing, mining etc.

The HASWA itself is a primary piece of legislation that serves to guide the more specific stuff that falls underneath it. These other regulations which compliment the HASWA are simply secondary, or supporting pieces of legislation.

The secondary parts make it easier for small changes,updates or additions to be made to existing law.

Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 - Employers Responsibilities

The employer’s duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASWA) is to ensure as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety & welfare of all employees. More specifically, employers must:

  • provide plant, equipment and systems of work that don’t present a risk to health or safety
  • facilitate the safe use, handling & storage of substances and materials
  • develop and maintain a written H&S policy and communicate it with employees
  • provide a safe place of work , including access (entry) and egress (exit) i.e. the working environment and welfare facilities provided
  • deliver adequate instruction, training and supervision i.e. informing workers fully about all potential hazards associated with any work process, chemical substance or activity
  • consult with workplace safety representatives (if a union is recognised)
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 - Simplified 1

Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 - Employees Responsibilities

As an employee you have rights and you have responsibilities for your own wellbeing and that of your colleagues. 

Your most important responsibilities as an employee are:

  • to take reasonable care of your own health and safety
  • to take reasonable care not to put other people – fellow employees and members of the public – at risk by what you do or don’t do in the course of your work
  • to co-operate with your employer, making sure you get proper training and you understand and follow the company’s health and safety policies
  • not to interfere with or misuse anything that’s been provided for your health, safety or welfare
  • to report any injuries, strains or illnesses you suffer as a result of doing your job, your employer may need to change the way you work
  • to tell your employer if something happens that might affect your ability to work, like becoming pregnant or suffering an injury 
  • if you drive or operate machinery, you have a responsibility to tell your employer if you take medication that makes you drowsy 

Who enforces the Health and Safety at Work Act?

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

The importance of keeping up to speed with Health and Safety law is becoming more and more important in the UK – to find out why, listen our podcast with legal expert Kizzy Augustin

‘Impact of the Health and Safety Sentencing Guidelines’ with Kizzy Augustin

In this episode, Health and Safety lawyer Kizzy Augustin, takes us through her thoughts on the major changes to the health and safety sentencing guidelines (England & Wales)

What are the main workplace Health and Safety Regulations in the UK?

As previously mentioned, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 is the principal piece of legislation for occupational H&S in Great Britain.

However, there are other regulations to implement which are designed to keep your workplace compliant and safe.

So remember, more specific regulations may also be relevant dependent on specific business areas or industry.

Here are a few examples;

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

The Workplace (Health, Safety & Welfare) Regulations 1992

The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992

The Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at Work Regulations 1992

The Provisions and Use of Work Equipment (PUWER) Regulations 1998

The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995

The full list of UK regulations is available on the Health and Safety Executive website

Would you like some unique insights from experts in the Health, Safety & Environment space? Make sure to tune in to the Safeti Podcast!

Now, let’s take a look at some of this stuff in a little more detail. Starting with the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations…

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

Also known as the ‘Management Regs’, these came into effect in 1993. Main employer duties under the Regulations include:

making ‘assessments of risk’ to the health and safety of its workforce, and to act upon risks they identify, so as to reduce them (Regulation 3);
appointing competent persons to oversee workplace health and safety;
providing workers with information and training on occupational health and safety; and
operating a written health and safety policy.

Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992

The health, safety and welfare (HSW) regulations apply to all aspects of the working environment. Employers must:

  1. Provide a workplace that is safe
  2. Suitable for the duties that are being carried out within it

Examples include…

Provision for comfort and sanitation of employees (e.g. break areas, washing facilities, drinking water etc.).

Appropriate working environments (e.g. room dimensions, lighting and ventilation etc.).

It also asks for safety in the workplace (e.g. appropriate maintenance of equipment, maintained walking routes and floor spaces, protection from falling objects etc.).

For a full breakdown, refer to the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare)Regulation

The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992
The main provisions here apply to display screen equipment (DSE) ‘users’. This includes people who are regular users of DSE equipment, or rely on it as part of their job. It covers you if you use DSE for an hour or more continuously, and/or you are making daily use of DSE.

Employers are required to:

  • make a risk assessment of workstation use by DSE users, and reduce the risks identified;
  • ensure DSE users take ‘adequate breaks’;
  • provide regular eyesight tests;
  • provide health and safety information;
  • provide adjustable furniture (e.g. desk, chair, etc.); and
  • demonstrate that they have adequate procedures designed to reduce risks associated with DSE work, such as repetitive strain injury (RSI).
The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992

The main provisions require employers to:

  • ensure that suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) is provided free of charge “wherever there are risks to health and safety that cannot be adequately controlled in other ways.”
  • The PPE must be ‘suitable’ for the risk in question
  • It includes protective face masks and goggles, safety helmets, gloves, air filters, ear defenders, overalls and protective footwear
  • Thee employer must provide information, training and instruction on the use of this equipment.

Under these Regulations, employers are required to report a wide range of work-related incidents, injuries and diseases to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Or to the nearest local authority environmental health department.

The Regulations require an employer to record the date and time of the incident, details of the person(s) affected, the nature of their injury or condition, their occupation, the place where the event occurred and a brief note on what happened.

The following injuries or ill health must be reported:

  • the death of any person;
  • specified injuries including fractures, amputations, eye injuries, injuries from electric shock, and acute illness requiring removal to hospital or immediate medical attention;
  • ‘over-seven-day’ injuries, which involve relieving someone of their normal work for more than seven days as a result of injury caused by an accident at work;
  • reportable occupational diseases, including:
    • cramp of the hand or forearm due to repetitive movement;
    • carpal tunnel syndrome, involving hand-held vibrating tools;
    • occupational asthma;
    • tendonitis or tenosynovitis (types of tendon injury);
    • hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS), including where the person’s work involves regular use of percussive or vibrating tools; and
    • occupational dermatitis;
  • near misses (described in the Regulations as ‘dangerous occurrences’). The HSE has produced a list of the kinds of incidents regarded as ‘dangerous occurrences‘.

The HSE also has a Code of Practice for further guidance

Are you new to Health and Safety?

If so, you might be interested in our podcast for beginner’s, Safeti School. The podcast is geared towards those who have limited knowledge of Environment, Health & Safety and want to get up to speed on the basics quickly. We crunch down HSE learning into simple, bite-size snippets that you can use for your business! You can check it out here….

Hi, I’m Richard Collins, owner of Safeti and Chartered Health Safety and Environmental professional. We are proud to produce some of the best free HSE resources around for professionals & businesses here at safeti.com! If there's anything I can help you with, please don't hesitate to get in touch.

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