Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974

The basis of health and safety legislation relating to the workplace is the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. It is also known as HASAWA or HSW and most health and safety legislation is contained in it.

What are the requirements of the Health and Safety at Work Act?

HASAW is based on common sense and safe practice. As already mentioned, It places the duty on employers to take responsibility for the health and safety of their employees at work “as far as is reasonably practicable”.

“as far as is reasonably practicable”

The responsibilities of the employer

  • Provide and maintain safe systems of work.
  • Provide adequate health and safety induction and training.
  • Maintain safe work equipment.
  • Ensure safe operation of working equipment.
  • Ensure adequate welfare provisions are made.
  • Provide a safe place of work. This includes safe access and egress.
  • Ensure any materials are handled, transported, used and stored safely.
  • Communicate with safety representatives.
  • Provide Employers Liability Insurance to cover employees.
  • Provide PPE or any other equipment needed in the interests of health and safety.

Do employees have any responsibilities?

Yes, there are duties for the employee too.  Employees duties:

  • Take care of their own health and safety and that of others.
  • Not interfere with any health hand safety equipment.
  • Cooperate with employers.
  • To report any unsafe equipment or conditions to their employer.
  • To report accidents and near misses. 
  • To attend on-site inductions.

The self-employed have the following duties;

  • Take care of their own health and safety and that of others.
  • Not interfere with any health hand safety equipment.
  • Cooperate with clients on health and safety matters.
  • To report any unsafe equipment or conditions to their client.
  • To report accidents and near misses to there client. 
  • To attend on-site inductions.
  • To provide a small first-aid kit suitable to treat themselves.
  • Tp provide their own Public Liability Insurance. 

 Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

Also known as the ‘Management Regs’, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 place a duty on employers to assess and manage risk.  Specifically, they require employers to do the following:

  • Manage risk in the workplace by carrying out risk assessments.
  • Take action to reduce or eliminate risks.
  • Appoint a ‘competent person’ to oversee health and safety in the workplace.
  • Provide staff with information and training with regards to safe working practices.
  • Have a health and safety policy in place.

Workplace (Health, Safety, and Welfare) Regulations 1992

The Workplace (Health, Safety, and Welfare) Regulations 1992 apply to most places of work. They require employers to ensure the working environment is safe, as free from risk as is reasonably possible and that appropriate equipment is provided where necessary.

The Regulations cover:

  • Ventilation and windows
  • Maintenance of equipment
  • Lighting
  • The environment around the working area such as traffic, risk of slips, trips and falls
  • Falling objects
  • Waste
  • Entry and egress
  • Facilities such as restrooms, changing rooms, and meals/drinks

The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992

The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 protect DSE users. DSE users are workers who habitually use a workstation/DSE equipment for a significant time (generally more than an hour a day or regular use) in order to complete their work.

The Regulations also apply to DSE users who work at home or remotely, contractors, and temporary workers. Under these regulations, employers must:

  • Carry out a risk assessment for each DSE user at their workstation. This will identify hazards and evaluate any risks. A clear record of the assessment and its findings should be kept and reviewed.
  • Take measures to reduce risk
  • Make provision for eye tests with an optician.
  • Ensure regular breaks are taken
  • Provide adequate training and information for all staff identified as DSE users.

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 amended 2002

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992, as amended in 2002 apply to a wide range of manual handling activities, including lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling, or carrying.

Who is responsible for manual handling regulations?

Employers have the primary responsibility.

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations require employers to:

  • Provide information and training on correct manual handling techniques.
  • Ensure equipment provided is suitable for the purpose for which it is intended.
  • Properly maintain manual handling equipment.

What about employees?

Employees have responsibilities too. They should:

  • Follow safe systems of work.
  • Use equipment correctly and safely.
  • Cooperate with employers on health and safety matters.
  • Let their employer know if they identify any manual handling risks
  • Ensure they do not put others at risk.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order applies to England and Wales only. For Scotland refer to Part 3 of the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005, supported by the Fire Safety (Scotland) Regulations 2006.  The Order is designed to provide a minimum fire safety standard in non-domestic premises such as the workplace.

Who is responsible for fire safety in the workplace?

In the workplace, the employer is the ‘Responsible Person’.  In order to reduce or eliminate the risk of fire and to identify people at risk, the Responsible Person is required to oversee fire safety and to carry a Fire Risk Assessment.  The Responsible Person can appoint a ‘Competent Person’ in this role however, the ultimate responsibility still lies with the employer.

What are the requirements of the Fire Order?

1. To carry out a fire risk assessment identifying hazards and risk. For instance, sources of ignition and sources of fuel.
2. Consider everyone who is at risk in the event of a fire – staff, visitors, contractors, customers
3. Eliminate risk as far as is possible and have precautions in place to deal with any remaining risk.
4. Ensure safe storage of flammable materials
5. Have an emergency plan in place
6. regularly review your plan and any findings

The Order also requires fire risk assessments to be reviewed and kept up to date, and records maintained.

RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995)

RIDDOR requires employers to record and report accidents and injuries at work.

The law applies where there is a dangerous occurrence, injury, accident or disease if the incident is work-related. When deciding if an occurrence is reportable, you should consider the following:

  • Was the way work is carried out or supervised a contributory factor?
  • Was the accident related to any machinery or equipment being used?
  • Are the premises in a poorly maintained condition?

If the answer is No to any of the above, a report is probably not necessary.

What are ‘Reportable incidents’?

  • Death
    All deaths resulting from a work-related accident must be reported.
  • Specific injuries including:
    Electric shock
    Crush injuries to the head or torso.
    Any serious injury to the eyes leading to the permanent loss of or impaired sight.
    Severe burns i.e. covering 10% or more of the body or causing damage to eyes, respiratory system or other organs.
    Any injury causing loss of conscience.
    Over-seven-day incapacitation of a worker
    Accidents must be reported where the injuries which result in missing work for ‘over seven days.
  • Non-fatal accidents to members of the public (non-staff)
    Accidents to the public must be reported if they result in an injury that requires immediate hospital treatment.
  • Over-seven-day incapacitation of a worker
    Accidents must be recorded but not reported where they result in over seven consecutive days of incapacitation.
  • Some occupational diseases or conditions
    Including RSI (repetitive strain injury), carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, occupational dermatitis.
  • ‘Dangerous occurrences’
    These are near misses. Some need to be reported such as the failure or collapse of lifting equipment (Rigging). For further guidance on dangerous occurrences.

The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992

Under the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations, employers have a duty to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) at work to protect staff against health and safety risks “wherever there are risks to health and safety that cannot be adequately controlled in other ways.”.

What is PPE?

PPE equipment that needs to be provided may include protective face masks, visors, helmets, goggles, gloves, ear protectors, overalls, safety boots, air filters, hairnets. Furthermore, employers must:

  • Provide the PPE equipment free of charge where it is necessary
  • Provide instructions and information on how to correctly use the PPE equipment.
  • PPE is used as a last resort after implementing other controls to reduce or avoid risk.

COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) 2002

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations require employers to control the use, storage, transport of any substances which may be harmful to health in order to reduce the workers’ possible exposure.

COSHH covers a wide range of potentially hazardous substances including:

  • Chemicals (bleach for instance)
  • Products containing chemicals
  • Fumes
  • Dust
  • Vapour
  • Gases and asphyxiating gases
  • Biological agents (look for the hazard symbols on the packaging)

In order to reduce the workers’ possible exposure, employers must:

  • Identify any use of substances harmful to health
  • Assess the risk of using these substances.
  • Reduce or eliminate any risk identified by introducing control measures and ensuring these controls are adequate and properly used.
  • Provide instructions and training for employees and anyone else who may risk exposure.
  • Provide monitoring and health surveillance if appropriate
  • Plan for an emergency.

When using hazardous substances, employers should consider how these substances cause harm and whether a different substance or process can be used to reduce risk. For instance, painting rather than spraying paint reduces the risk of vapor inhalation.

COSHH does not cover asbestos, lead, or radioactive substances because these have their own regulations.

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

The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 place duties on businesses and organisations that own, use, or operate work equipment. Under these regulations, employers must ensure any equipment provided or used is:

  • Suitable for the intended use.
  • Safe to use.
  • Properly maintained.
  • Used only by those who have had proper training or instruction.
  • Accompanied by health and safety measures such as emergency stop buttons and signage.

Some equipment is also covered in other legislation. For instance, PPE equipment is covered by PPE regulations.

The Working Time Regulations 1998

The Working Time Regulations are based on two EU directives regarding the limits on working hours and further protection for young workers.

For adult workers the key protections are:

  • To have a maximum working week of 48 hours. If a worker opts out of this protection voluntarily, they must do so in writing.
  • Daily rest periods of at least 11 hours.
  • A rest break every six hours of work.

For young workers

There are further protections for young people (aged between 15 and 18). 

European law

In recent years much of Britain’s health and safety law has originated in Europe. Proposals from the European Commission may be agreed upon by the Member States, who are then responsible for making them part of their domestic law, however, Brexit has changed all that and we have now left the EU and the UK is no longer harmonised with the EU on health and safety, nothing really changes for us here in the UK but we may well have to make changes later when we start working and touring in the EU. Modern

 health and safety law in this country, including much of that from Europe, is based on the principle of risk assessment described above.

Action on health and safety: Options

The Health and Safety Commission and its operating arm, the Executive (HSC/E), have spent over twenty years modernising the structure of health and safety law. Their aims are to protect the health, safety, and welfare of employees, and to safeguard others, principally the public, who may be exposed to risks from work activity.

HSE consult fully with people affected by their legislative proposals and adopt various approaches based on assessing and controlling risk (see ‘What health and safety law requires’).

Among the things that can prompt action from HSE are:

❋     changes in technologies, industries or risks;

❋    evidence of accidents and ill health, plus public concern;

❋    European Directives.

Where HSE consider action is necessary to supplement existing arrangements, their three main options are:

❋     guidance;

❋     Approved Codes of Practice; and

❋     regulations.

HSE tries to take whichever option, or options allow employers most flexibility and cost them least while providing proper safeguards for employees and the public.


HSE publishes guidance on a range of subjects. Guidance can be specific to the health and safety problems of an industry or of a particular process used in a number of industries. The main purpose of guidance are:

❋     to interpret ­ helping people to understand what the law says ­ including for example how requirements based on EC Directives fit with those under the Health and Safety at Work Act;

❋     to help people comply with the law;

❋     to give technical advice.

Following the guidance is not compulsory and employers are free to take other action. But if they do follow the guidance they will normally be doing enough to comply with the law. (Please also see the sections below on Approved Codes of Practice and regulations, which explain other ways in which employers are helped to know whether they are doing what the law requires.)

HSE aims to keep guidance UpToDate because as technologies change, risks and the measures needed to address them change too.

Approved Codes of Practice

Approved Codes of Practice offer practical examples of good practice.

They give advice on how to comply with the law by, for example, providing a guide to what is ‘reasonably practicable. For example, if regulations use words like

‘suitable and sufficient, an Approved Code of Practice can illustrate what this requires in particular circumstances.

Approved Codes of Practice have a special legal status. If employers are prosecuted for a breach of health and safety law, and it is proved that they have not followed the relevant provisions of the Approved Code of Practice, a court can find them at fault unless they can show that they have complied with the law in some other way.

HSE consulted in 1995 on the role of Approved Codes of Practice in the health and safety system and concluded that they could still be used in support of legal duties in specific circumstances.


Regulations are law, approved by Parliament. These are usually made under the Health and Safety at Work Act, following proposals from HSC. This applies to regulations based on EC Directives as well as ‘home­grown’ ones.

The Health and Safety at Work Act, and general duties in the Management Regulations, are goal­setting (see ‘What form do they take?’) and leave employers the freedom to decide how to control risks which they identify. Guidance and Approved Codes of Practice give advice. But some risks are so great, or the proper control measures so costly, that it would not be appropriate to leave employers discretion

in deciding what to do about them. Regulations identify these risks and set out a specific action that must be taken. Often these requirements are absolute ­ to do something without qualification by whether it is reasonably practicable.

How regulations apply

Some regulations apply across all companies, such as the Manual Handling Regulations which apply wherever things are moved by hand or bodily force, and the Display Screen Equipment Regulations which apply wherever VDUs are used. Other regulations apply to hazards unique to specific industries, such as mining or nuclear.

What form do they take?

HSE will where appropriate, propose regulations in goal­setting form: that is, setting out what must be achieved, but not how it must be done.

Sometimes it is necessary to be prescriptive, that is spelling out in detail what should be done. Some standards are absolute. For example, all mines should have two exits; contacts with live electrical conductors should be avoided. Sometimes European law requires a prescription.

Some activities or substances are so inherently hazardous that they require licensing, for example, explosives and asbestos removal. Certain big and complex installations or operations require ‘safety cases’, which are large­scale risk assessments subject to scrutiny by the regulator. For example, railway companies are required to produce safety cases for their operations.

The relationship between the regulator and industry

As mentioned above, HSE consults widely with those affected by its proposals. HSE work through:

❋     HSE’s Industry and Subject Advisory Committees, which have members drawn from the areas of work they cover and focus on health and safety issues in particular industries (such as the textile industry, construction and education or areas such as toxic substances and genetic modification);

❋    intermediaries such as small firms’ organisations;

❋     providing information and advice to employers and others with responsibilities under the Health and Safety at Work Act;

❋     guidance to enforcers, both HSE inspectors and those of local authorities;

❋     the day-to-day contact which inspectors have with people at work.

HSE directly canvasses the views of small businesses. It also seeks views in detail from representatives of small businesses about the impact of proposed legislation.

What next?

The Review of Regulation concluded that the present system of health and safety regulation generally works well, though it identified several areas where improvements can be made.

Although the Review has ended, the work of the HSE in support of Better Regulation continues. The Review program has formed an important basis for long-lasting successes in improving workplace health and safety. Policies and initiatives flowing from it continue to support our priority aims and objectives and will be refined in the coming years, adapting and evolving to take account of changes in technology, workplace trends, and the needs of those involved.