Health and Safety Law

The purpose of health and safety laws is to protect the welfare, health, and safety of the public in general. Some sections of the population such as employees are protected under the health and safety laws that have been put in place. Typically, a civil law system is in place that will cover most health and safety laws.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 says that employers are responsible for making sure that all their employees are safe at work and are protected from possible dangers to their health. This includes making sure that the job and the work environment are safe and has no health risks. Employees are also responsible for their own safety at work, and the safety of their work colleagues.

It is an employer’s duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.
Health and Safety at Work Act 1974

Your legal rights to health and safety at work are found in a range of legislation and legal rights:

  • The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. This sets out your employer’s statutory duties.
  • Regulations, guidance and Approved Codes of Practice (ACOPs) made under this Act. These cover work processes, such as using a computer or manual handling, and also cover specific hazards, such as working with chemicals. Employers have to comply with regulations, and are expected to apply other advice and guidance.
  • Employment rights legislation. These are your employment protection rights.
  • Your common-law rights. These are basic legal obligations on your employer.
  • Your employment contract, staff handbook and company procedures.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASAWA) lays down wide-ranging duties on employers. Employers must protect the ‘health, safety and welfare’ at work of all their employees, as well as others on their premises, including temps, casual workers, the self-employed, clients, visitors and the general public. However, these duties are qualified with the words ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’. This means that employers can argue that the costs of a particular safety measure are not justified by the reduction in risk that the measure would produce. But it does not mean they can avoid their responsibilities simply by claiming that they cannot afford improvements.

HASAWA allows the government to issue regulations, guidance and Approved Codes of Practice (ACOPs) for employers. These set out detailed responsibilities for your employer in every aspect of workplace health and safety, from working safely with computers, to stress and hazardous chemicals.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was set up under HASAWA. The Act contains powers for the HSE to enforce these employer duties and penalties for non-compliance.