Regulation vs Legislation – How Do They Differ and Why Does it Matter for Your Business?

Regulation vs Legislation

Look, we understand that health and safety laws can be complicated. And we know that you’re probably not a lawyer. You likely won’t be familiar with too much fancy legal terminology. But whether you work for yourself or a company, you’ll have to adhere to different health and safety legislation, regulations, laws and guidance. So, what do all these terms mean?

Knowing the difference between safety legislation and safety regulations can make all the difference in compliance. Understanding these legal terms can help you stay safe at work and avoid nasty penalties.

In this article, we’ll look at regulation vs legislation, explain what an Act of Parliament is, and review policy and guidance. At the end of this piece, we can’t guarantee you’ll be ready to don a silk wig and present an argument at the Old Bailey. Still, you’ll better understand everyday legal health and safety terms.

What is Legislation Exactly?

Regarding the UK legal definition, legislation is defined as ‘a law or a set of laws that have been passed by Parliament.’ Any legislation addresses a particular issue or issues impacting society, affecting the economy or requiring governance.

Legislation is created through a formal process of proposal, debate and approval by the legislative body. This would be the UK Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Creating legislation involves passing bills through the House of Commons and the House of Lords. After that process has been completed, the proposed legislation must get Royal Assent from the monarch before it comes into force. Passing a piece of legislation can take as little time as a few days, or it may take years.

Legislation provides information on establishing and enforcing legal rules and standards within a given jurisdiction. Individuals, businesses and organisations are legally obliged to comply with legislation passed by the UK parliament.

Health and Safety Courses

Our Health and Safety training courses help trainees explore common workplace hazards that might prove fatal if ignored. Understanding the nature of the problem can help control and manage the issue before it gets worse.

What Happens if You Breach UK Health and Safety Legislation?

In short, nothing good happens. It is considered criminal if you have breached UK health and safety legislation. You’ve broken the law. This is most definitely something you want to avoid.

Penalties for breaches of health and safety legislation can be severe. Punishment can result in fines and terms of imprisonment – or both. If a case is heard in a magistrate’s court, fines can be anywhere between £5,000 to £20,000 per offence. If the case is heard in Crown Court, however, then there is no limit to the fines that can be applied. Terms of imprisonment can be up to two years.

In most cases, breaches are investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Recent figures show that the HSE investigated over 230 fatal and 5,500 non-fatal incidents with a 94% conviction rate during the 2022 to 2023 period.

Breaching health and safety legislation can result in much more than just a financial penalty. Tragically, countless workers die or are severely injured when breaches in health and safety laws occur.

Breaching UK Health and Safety Legislation

What is a Regulation?

Regulations are a little different than legislation. Regulations are forms of secondary, subordinate, or delegated legislation. Regulations are always linked to an existing Act of Parliament. They are created by an individual or body under powers given to them by the primary legislation.

Regulations contain detailed rules and procedures necessary for the implementation of primary legislation. They assist governments in achieving their policy objectives. You can think of a piece of health and safety legislation as something that tells you what to do and the associated regulations as the information that tells you how to do it.

There must first be an enabling piece of legislation to pass a regulation. Regulations about the legislation are then drafted by government ministers or authorities. The regulations then undergo an internal review process and, in some cases, are presented for public consultation.

The regulations are then reviewed by Members of Parliament (MPs) in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. If there are no significant objections, the regulations can be approved and come into force.

What Happens if You Break a Health and Safety Regulation?

Breaking a health and safety regulation isn’t as serious as breaching legislation, but it’s still a big deal. The severity of the consequences often depends on the regulation’s nature and the breach’s specific circumstances.

Going against health and safety regulations can result in fines, warnings or other sanctions. A business may lose specific licenses or permits, find themselves open to legal action, face an injunction, or suffer a serious loss of reputation.

Important UK Health and Safety Legislation and Regulations

There are many different types of health and safety legislation in the UK. Some deal with industry-specific issues, while others are more general and apply to everyone. The main ones to know are:

  • The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974
  • The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 
  • The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992
  • The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992
  • The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992
  • The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992
  • The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998
  • The Working Time Regulations 1998

What is Guidance?

Government-issued health and safety guidance can also be called Approved Codes of Practice (ACOPs). Legally, guidance is positioned below legislation and regulations. Guidance usually comes from advisory documents and information provided by government departments, agencies, and other authorities. Health and safety guidance in the UK is usually provided by the HSE

Guidance provides advice and recommendations on how individuals, businesses and organisations can understand and comply with health and safety laws. Guidance isn’t legally binding like legislation or regulations are. Adherence to guidance demonstrates compliance with the law.

What is Policy?

A health and safety policy is a set of rules issued by the government, a business or organisation. Policy guides decision-making and provides a framework for how to act within a particular area or domain.

Policies are usually mandatory and enforceable by government agencies, organisations, or businesses. The penalties for breaching a policy can vary. You may face termination of employment, lose your right to operate a business or face fines or other penalties under relevant legislation.

Regulation vs Legislation - Where to Learn More About Health and Safety

If you’re an employer, you must ensure you’re well informed about what health and safety legislation and regulations apply to your business. If you’re an employee, understanding safety legislation and regulations can help keep you and your colleagues safe.

We all need to take care of each other at work. Ultimately, workplace safety is everybody’s responsibility.

Our Health and Safety Courses will give you and your team the skills to create a safer workplace.

About the author(s)

Share with others
You might also like