Prior to the 1970s, UK health and safety law was made up of various pieces of legislation covering a wide range of industries and issues. Unfortunately, this health and safety legislation was not developed in a cohesive manner and so was often confusing and fell short of providing the protection that workers required. To rectify the situation, the UK government introduced the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
In this introduction to health and safety legislation, we will provide an overview of the legal framework for health and safety in the UK.
The Legal Framework for Health and Safety Legislation UK
As well as the legal framework, policies and strategies for health and safety legislation in the UK are set by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). While the HSE’s main focus is on prevention, it is empowered to enforce the law when required to do so.
Within UK health and safety legislation, there are two categories:
- Criminal Law
- Civil Law
Criminal law is made up of regulations that are set into motion by the Government or the State. It is carried out through Parliament or the Acts of Parliament. These regulations or Acts were specifically put into place for the safety of citizens.
Criminal law is enforced by multiple governmental organisations. Each organisation is able to take legal action against a citizen for breaking a law. Only in a very particular case can these organisations take legal action against a citizen.
Any person who falls foul of criminal law is said to have carried out an offence or a crime. The case will then go to court where it will be decided whether the person did or did not commit the crime. If the person is found guilty, then they may either be sent to prison or have to pay large fees.
Since a person’s freedom can be taken away if they are found guilty, the court must prove that they have committed the crime ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. This means that the proof makes their guilt a certainty, or very close to it.
An example of criminal law is the Road Traffic Act which is controlled by the police. The police are one of the many organisations that ensure adherence to criminal laws.
There are key differences between everyday criminal law and criminal law when applied to health and safety issues. Proof ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ must be established in a criminal case. However, in a case involving health and safety, there are various regulations that apply a duty to provide protection from risks ‘so far as reasonably practicable’. For a person or entity to be found guilty of breaching health and safety regulations, proof must be provided to show that reasonable and practicable steps to protect workers and the public from risk were not taken.
The main focus of a civil law court is liability or accountability, and the degree of liability. The amount of proof that is necessary is lower in civil court cases, due to the court dealing primarily with statistics and probabilities. Proof ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ in a civil court case is not necessary.
Civil law shows the issues between one person or organisation and another person. The person filing the issue is the plaintiff. The person or organisation the complaint is filed against is known as the defendant. In cases of health and safety, civil law cases are usually connected to an injury or illness and are filed to prove negligence or a breach of statutory duty. Most civil law disputes are negotiated ‘out of court’.
If a defendant is found to be accountable, then they will most likely pay fines or monetary recompense to the plaintiff. The amount of money awarded varies depending on how much liability was determined. It is possible for a plaintiff to win a case by a small margin and then receive next to no monetary compensation since the amount of money is governed by the amount of liability. Monetary compensation can also be lowered if the court finds contributory negligence.
Where an individual was working for a company, and their actions as an employee caused an issue, the employer must defend the action. This is called vicarious liability. The civil case is then carried out between the person filing the complaint and the organisation.
What is the Main Piece of Legislation for Health and Safety in the UK?
The main piece of legislation for health and safety in the UK is the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. This delivered a framework that integrated and simplified UK health and safety legislation. Duplicated, irrelevant and outdated legislation was replaced by a risk-based approach that removed unnecessary burdens on duty holders. The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 removed gaps in the law and provides ample protection for all employees and the public.
A List of Health and Safety Legislation in the UK
Alongside the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, there are various other pieces of legislation that provide specific guidelines relating to certain areas or industries. While this is not by any means a comprehensive list, some of the key health and safety legislation in the UK are:
- The Health and Safety at Work Act
- Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005
- Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (MHSWR) 1999
- Health and Safety (First Aid) Regulations 1981
- Health and Safety Information for Employees Regulations 1989
- Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992
- Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992
- Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992
- Health and Safety (Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996
- Control of Substances Hazard to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH)
- Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012
- Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR)
The Benefits of Health and Safety Legislation in the UK
Modern health and safety legislation in the UK is now contained within a framework that ensures all workers and the public are protected from harm. Implementing health and safety systems and procedures is the legal responsibility of all employers and crucial to creating a safer and healthier workplace.
Four key benefits of health and safety in the workplace include:
- A reduction in workplace incidents
- Being able to effectively manage health and safety risks
- Increased productivity and staff morale
Participating in health and safety training is the best way for staff and management to gain the skills they need to identify and eliminate risks in the workplace. Human Focus offers a range of accredited online health and safety courses that will ensure your workplace is safe and complies with relevant UK legislation.