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What is the Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974?

health and safety at work

The Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 is a key piece of legislation that as its title suggests, is an Act of Parliament. Acts of Parliament are primary legislation, which set out a framework of principles and objectives – in this case, the framework for criminal and civil health and safety law in the UK.

The Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 places a legal duty on employers, manufacturers, and all employees who work for such organisations, from directors, managers through to frontline employees, to ensure so far as reasonably practicable health and safety in relation to their activities.

Let’s take a look at what these duties include.

The Legal Duties Placed on Employers

Under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, the principle duty of an employer can be summarised by general duties, including requirements to:

  • Make the workplace safe without health risks
  • Provide information and instruction, training and supervision necessary for health and safety
  • Ensure that plant and equipment are safe, and safe systems of work are set
  • Keep dust, fumes, and noise to low levels
  • Ensure that articles and substances are stored, moved, and used safely
  • Keep dust, fumes, and noise to low levels, and
  • Ensure that articles and substances are stored, moved, and used safely
  • Provide adequate welfare and first aid facilities,
  • Provide protective equipment or clothing,
  • Report injuries and other such workplace occurrences,
  • Consult safety and worker representatives about health and safety, and
  • Set up a safety committee if asked to do so

The Legal Duties Placed on Employees

Whilst employers are required to provide employees with everything they need to conduct their work in a safe manner, such as equipment, training, and information, employees also have a duty to help ensure that work is conducted safely.

This means that employees must:

  • Take reasonable care of their own health and safety
  • Stop work if there’s a safety concern
  • Ensure they don’t put others in danger
  • Inform someone responsible for health and safety when there’s a safety concern, and
  • Report accidents and near misses

The Legal Duties Placed on Contractors

Contractors have all of the employer duties we’ve just reviewed – They also have the universal employee duties we’ve introduced.

However, there are some additional legal duties that contractors must follow, these are:

  • To cooperate and coordinate with their clients in order to ensure high standards of health and safety – This can include providing the client with evidence that their employees are competent, such as training records
  • To provide copies of method statements, and
  • To help to assess risks on the client’s site to ensure suitable safety controls are in place

Health and safety is a partnership, with both the client and contractor sharing these common duties

Reasonably Practicable Risk

It is important to note that this legislation does not explain how to meet these standards. Details such as what controls you use, or whether you provide training face-to-face or offer online health and safety training – is left up to employers.

It is up to employers, and upper management, to take an active part in assessing and countering the risks inherent in businesses.

Which is why the phrase reasonably practicable was included, as the law says:

“This means that you must take reasonable steps to control the health and safety risks in your place of work except where the cost, in terms of time, effort, money, environment, inconvenience and aesthetics, of doing so is ‘grossly disproportionate’, that is, higher, to the reduction in the risk”

Reasonably practicable means this is effectively a risk-based duty – You have to undertake a risk assessment to establish this. Employers must balance the cost of the risk of injury.

So, if the cost is very high and the risk of injury very small, the employer would not be expected to take action.

It should be noted that in this balancing act, the cost must be significantly greater than the risk in order to justify not acting.

Everyone is Responsible for Health & Safety in the Workplace

Organisations must manage the risks that are created as a result of their work. This is the basis of Health and Safety Law in the UK.

Employers must provide their employees with health and safety classroom training or health and safety online training their workforce needs to work in a healthy and safe manner.

Likewise, employees and contractors must do their part to assist their employer in helping to carry out the health and safety arrangements that are in place.

Manufacturers as well are required to ensure that everything that they supply is safe, tested, and provides clear instructions on how to use it in a safe manner.

Enforcement of the Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974

Health and Safety enforcement officers can investigate any organisation they suspect of breaking health and safety law. They can use enforcement action to make sure an organisation raises its standards and can even stop it from doing the work that is causing a safety problem.

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