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by | Jan 21, 2019 | Health and Safety

What is the Health and Safety at Work Act?

The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 is the primary piece of legislation which deals with workplace health and safety in Great Britain. Sometimes referred to as HSW, HASAW 1974 or HASAWA, it is an act of Parliament that sets out the framework for managing workplace health and safety in the UK. 

On first reading of the Act, many notice that is quite vague and general in its detail – this isn’t an accident.

The act is an ‘enabling act’ which means that it provides power for the government to add or amend to health and safety law. This is done through more specific and detailed pieces of legislation which are called Regulations (also sometimes known as Statutory Instruments. These instruments allow government to make small changes, updates or additions to existing legislation without having to create an entirely new Bill. It speeds up the process and allows the evolution of health and safety best practice to be constant. 

The Act defines general duties for the health and safety of those involved in work and this includes employers, employees, the self-employed, suppliers of work equipment and those who control work premises. 

The act makes it very clear that health and safety management is a job to be split between employers, employees, contractors, suppliers and premises holders. It takes time to outline the general responsibilities that each group has to the other. Because it is the primary piece of health and safety legislation, it is careful and deliberate in its message – everybody has a responsibility to take relevant steps to ensure the health and safety of themselves and others.  

Businesses need to regularly check the legislation which is relevant to their industry. This is most easily done by keeping up to date or contacting the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).


The responsibilities of the Employer towards their employees are as follows:

It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.

This is further defined as:

  1. The provision and maintenance of safe plant and safe systems of work.
  2. Arrangements for ensuring health and safety in connection with the use, storage, handling and transport of articles and substances.
  3. The provision of such information, instruction, training and supervision as is necessary.
  4. The provision of a safe place of work and safe means of access to and egress from it.
  5. The provision and maintenance of a safe and healthy working environment.

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.

Employers also have a duty to those who are not employed (or self-employed) by them. This requires an employer or the self employed to carry out their work in such a way that it does not affect the health and safety of others such as the employees of other employers or members of the general public.

As discussed the responsibilities of employees is regarded with high importance in the act. These duties are:

  1. To take reasonable care of his own health and safety at work and that of other people who may be affected by what he does, or does not do, whilst carrying out his duties.
  2. To co-operate with his employer or any other person so far as is necessary to enable his employer or any other person to comply with any statutory duties imposed on him.

These duties are extended and more detailed in The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations. They require that employees carry out any work in accordance with any training or instruction given and to inform the employer of any health and safety problems.

Premises holders also have a duty of care, this includes landlords, site owners or anybody who might use their premises, plant or equipment. This doesn’t include domestic premises. The Act says:

Duties are placed upon such persons to ensure that, so far as is reasonably practicable, the premises are safe and without risks to the health of:

  1. People working on the premises who are not the employees of the person in control of the premises.
  2. Any persons who use plant and substances made available to them for their use on the premises.

As discussed the act also places further general duties on suppliers and designers amongst others. But the above will apply to most if not all businesses reading this article. 

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