Health and Safety Law

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 – An Overview

What is the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974?

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 is a statutory piece of legislation that was enacted as a result of the need to codify much of the pre-1974 legislation. The principle aim was to create a single comprehensive system of regulatory law. There are three primary aims of the HSWA:

  1. To secure the health, safety and welfare of persons at work.

  2. To 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.

  3. To control the keeping and use of explosive or highly flammable or otherwise dangerous substances, and generally preventing the unlawful acquisition, possession and use of such substances.

The HSWA imposes various general duties upon both Employers and Employees.

Duties owed by Employers to Employees

The following duties are owed to employees:

  • Provide and maintain safe plant and systems of work.

  • Ensure the safety of Employees in connection with the use, storage and transport of articles.

  • Provide the necessary information, instruction, training and supervision.

  • Ensure the safe maintenance of the place of work.

  • Provide and maintain a safe working environment.

Duties owed to persons other than Employees

The following duties are owed to persons other than employees:

  • Not to expose such persons to risks in relation to their health and safety.

  • Provide such persons prescribed 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 a 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 of employees at work

The following are duties of employees:

  • To take care for the health and safety of themselves and other persons.

  • To cooperate with any requirement imposed by the Employer in order for the Employer to perform and 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 the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 created two governing authorities (1) The Health and Safety Commission and (2) The Health and Safety Executive. On April 1st 2008, both authorities were merged to establish one governing authority, namely 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:

  • Assisting and encouraging persons concerned with matters relevant to the operation of the objectives of the HSWA 1974.

  • Making arrangements for and encouraging research publication, training and information in connection with its work.  

  • Making arrangements to ensure government departments, employers, employees, their respective representative organisations and other persons are provided with an information and advisory service and are kept informed and advised on such matters.

  • Propose 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 to take responsibility for their own enforcement. Such an authority would include the ‘Local Authority’. There is a duty on both the HSE and the Local Authority to ensure that:

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