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The Health and Safety at Work Act – Simplified

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

It remains the primary piece of legislation governing workplace health and safety in Great Britain. There are, of course, supplementary pieces of regulation which support the HASWA.

How important is the Health and Safety at Work Act?

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 compliant.

To give some real context to the importance of the HASWA and associated regulations, you only have to look at recent prosecutions by the Health and Safety Executive. Here’s a few from January 2019 below…..

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

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.

This will help you 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 sets out the legal 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. I

Such as the construction industry, chemical manufacturing, mining etc.

The act itself is a primary piece of legislation set out by the government. Other regulations which compliment the HASAWA 1974 are known as statutory instruments (essentially secondary pieces of legislation).

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

Health and Safety at Work Act Employers Responsibilities

Your employer’s duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act1974 (HASWA) is to provide you with a safe and healthy workplace, and this includes:

  • a safe system of work;
  • a safe place of work;
  • safe equipment, plant and machinery;
  • safe and competent people working alongside you, because employers are also liable for the actions of their staff and managers;
  • carrying out risk assessments as set out in regulations, and taking steps to eliminate or control these risks;
  • informing workers fully about all potential hazards associated with any work process, chemical substance or activity, including providing instruction, training and supervision;
  • appointing a ‘competent person’ responsible for health and safety (competent persons, such as a head of health and safety, oversee day-to-day safety management, oversee safety inspections, and liaise with staff safety reps);
  • consulting with workplace safety representatives (if a union is recognised, your employer must set up and attend a workplace safety committee if two or more safety reps request one); and
  • providing adequate facilities for staff welfare at work.

Health and Safety At Work Act 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 Health and Safety Legislation?

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.

We recently wrote a post and produced a podcast with a UK legal expert on the impact on the health and safety sentencing guidelines. Check it out below!


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 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

Let’s take a look at some of this stuff in a little more detail. Starting with the Health and Safety at Work Act itself…..


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:

  1. Keep a written record of their health and safety policy
  2. Consult with employees (or employee representatives) on relevant policies and associated health and safety arrangements.

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 itself.

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The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992

The main provisions here apply to display screen equipment (DSE) ‘users’.

These are defined as workers who ‘habitually’ use a computer as a significant part of their normal work.

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.

The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995

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.


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