Health and Safety at Work Act 1974


The aim of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA 1974) was to create a single comprehensive system of regulatory law covering occupational health and safety in Great Britain. HSWA 1974 imposes various general duties upon both employers and employees and its three primary objectives are to:

  • secure the health, safety and welfare of persons at work;
  • protect persons other than persons at work against risks to health or safety arising out of, or in connection with, the activities of persons at work;
  • control the keeping and use of explosive or highly flammable or other dangerous substances, and generally prevent the unlawful acquisition, possession and use of such substances.

Duties owed by employers to employees

Employers owe the following duties to their employees:

  • ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees and others who might be affected by their business;
  • assess risks in the workplace, tell employees about these risks and how they will protect them and provide training on how to tackle these risks;
  • ensure the safety of employees in connection with the use, storage and transport of articles;
  • ensure the safe maintenance of the place of work;
  • consult employees on health and safety issues.

Duties owed to persons who are not employees

There are also limited duties owed to persons who are not employees:

  • not to expose such persons to risks in relation to their health and safety;
  • provide such persons with information about the way in which the employer or self-employed person conducts their undertaking.

Duties of manufacturers (articles and substances for use at work)

There is duty on any person who designs, manufactures, imports or supplies any article for use at work to ensure:

  • it will be safe when being set, used, cleaned or maintained by a person at work;
  • there will be adequate testing and examination of such articles;
  • persons using the article are provided with adequate information about its usage;
  • persons using the article are provided with any revisions of information about the article;
  • the carrying out of any necessary research with a view to the discovery, elimination or minimisation of any risks to health;
  • the erection or installation of any article is done so safely.

Duties owed by employees at work

  • to take care of the health and safety of themselves and other persons;
  • to cooperate with any requirement imposed by the employer so the employer can comply with any required duty;
  • not to intentionally or recklessly interfere or misuse anything provided in the interests of health, safety or welfare.

Governing authorities

In the early days HSWA 1974 created two governing authorities: The Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety Executive.

On April 1st 2008, both authorities were merged to form the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The idea of the merger was to bring the governing arrangements for both the commission and the executive in line with practice and provide a more robust governing framework. The HSE performs its functions on behalf of the Crown. Its main role and functions include:

  • anticipating, identifying and preparing for new or changing risks in the workplace;
  • preventing death, injury and ill-health in the workplace;
  • enforcing health and safety rules;
  • assisting and encouraging people in the health and safety community to be better prepared;
  • encouraging research publication, training and information in connection with its work;
  • ensuring government departments, employers, employees and representative organisations provided are kept informed on health and safety matters;
  • proposing regulations.

It is the duty and responsibility of the HSE to make adequate arrangements for the enforcement of health and safety legislation. The Secretary of State has the power to establish provisions that allow other authorities or bodies (eg, local authorities) to take responsibility for health and safety enforcement.

Unlock this article now!


For more information on:

  • Powers of inspectors
  • Enforcement
  • Improvement Notices
  • Prohibition Notices
  • Appeals