Health and Safety Act

Health and Safety Act

The Health and Safety Act was introduced in 1974 to regulate safety standards in the workplace and aimed to codify a large amount of previous legislation.

There are three aims of the health and safety act:

  • Maintaining the health, welfare and safety of individuals at work
  • To protect other individuals who are associated with but are not employees such as members of the public, suppliers, representatives or visitors from any risks connected to the workplace
  • To ensure full control of explosive, flammable or dangerous substances and the implementation of steps to avoid the unauthorised possession, use or acquisition of these substances

The Health and Safety Act imposes certain obligations both own employers and employees to ensure that their work adheres to the legislation.

Obligations of Employers

  • Establish and maintain safe working practices
  • Safety standards should be clearly defined for the storage, use and transportation of items
  • All employees should be suitably trained and provided with the necessary instruction, supervision and where it exists formal training
  • Places of work and equipment should be well maintained and safe for employees

health and safety act

Obligations of manufacturers

Anyone who manufactures, designs, supplies or imports items must ensure:

  • Employees are safe when handling, using, cleaning or maintaining the item
  • Each article should be thoroughly examined and tested
  • Employees or other individuals using the product should be provided with sufficient information to use or handle it safely
  • Research should be carried out to identify, reduce and where possible eliminate any health risks related to the product
  • The construction of installation of the item is completed in a safe manner

Obligations of employees

Employees are by no means exempt from Health and Safety Act obligations, if systems and processes have been implemented it is crucial that they are followed.

Employees are obliged to:

  • Take responsibility for the health and safety of themselves and others while at work
  • Fully cooperate with any procedures or instructions provided by employers to ensure full compliance with the relevant regulations
  • Not to intentionally misuse or interfere with any equipment or practice which could pose a threat to health, safety or welfare

Health and Safety Authorities

When the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 was introduced two bodies were created which governed health and safety, The Health and Safety Commission and The Health and Safety Executive. However in 2008 these were merged to create The Health and Safety Executive.

This new division was established to assist those who were responsible for meeting health and safety objectives defined in the original 1974 legislation. They are also accountable for encouraging research, training and information distribution to raise awareness and to ensure that employers, employees, representatives and government departments are offered information and advice on health and safety.

It is the responsibility of the Health and Safety Executive to put in place suitable arrangements to enforce the legislation. Inspectors have a diverse range of powers to ensure that relevant legislation is consistently implemented and adhered to. In particular they can;

  • Enter premises and any workplaces where they believe it is required to enforce statutory provisions of the Health and Safety at Work Act
  • Request assistance from the police if there is cause to apprehend any obstructions in their duty
  • Conduct necessary investigations and/or examinations to enforce any statutory provisions included within the Health and Safety at Work Act
  • Instruct that any workplace or premises to remain undisturbed for as long as it takes to resolve any issues
  • Collect any information about the Health and Safety issue such as photographs, measurements and other written observations
  • Take samples of any items or substances which are found on the premises or in the vicinity
  • Test, take possession of, dismantle or detain any item or substance which is likely to result in health and safety dangers
  • View, copy or request sight of books or documents which have to be kept under the legislation


Any business or individual found to be in breach of the Health and Safety Act can be issued with an Improvement and Prohibition Notice. Once issued, if the activity continues, the individual or business will be committing a criminal offence under the Health and Safety Act.

Using Section 21, a Health and Safety Inspector has the power to issue an Improvement Notice who contravenes one or more of the applicable statutory notices. The notice must clearly outline the reasons why an inspector has reason to issue the notice and that the individual or business is able to appeal against its issue.

Using Section 22, a Health and Safety Inspector has identical powers to issue a Prohibition Notice to carries out particular activities which pose a threat to others and present a risk of serious personal injury. Prohibition notices must explain that the inspector believes this is the case, the reasons for this opinion, provisions they are aware of and state the activities which must be stopped.

Where either of the above notices have been issued, the receiver can submit an appeal to an Employment Tribunal. The process of appeal will result in suspending the operation of the notice until the appeal is disposed of. Where Prohibition Notices are concerned, an investigation will have similar consequences but only if the Tribunal states this. Tribunals have the power to either cancel or affirm the notices or they are able to modify the notice as required.

As well as the main health and safety legislation, there are various regulations which are closely linked such as the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences 1995 (RIDDOR) and the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992.

Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

The Health and Safety Act ensure that employers are obliged to assess and carefully manage risks which relate to employees and others who come into contact with work activities. An employer must also implement suitable arrangements to comply with health and safety legislation such as;

  • Creating emergency procedures
  • Providing sufficient information, guidance and training to employees
  • Conducting health surveillance where required

Employees are also under a duty to carry out their work in such a way that does not create risks for other people and only act within the remit of their role and what they have been trained to carry out. Employees are duty bound to notify the employer or designated Health and Safety coordinator about any immediate or serious danger to health and safety or report any instances where health and safety policies are breached.

Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR). These regulations place obligations on employers, people in control of premises and the self employed to report major injuries, work related diseases, dangerous occurrences and work related deaths.

Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992

Applicable to the working environment, these regulations place specific obligations on employers to ensure that the workplace is suitable and safe for the work which is being carried out. Regulations incorporate many different elements in the working environment including;

  • Equipment, devices, systems and general maintenance of the workplace
  • Ventilation, lighting and temperature in indoor working environments
  • Cleanliness and waste
  • Room space, workstations and seating arrangements
  • Conditions of floors
  • Falls or objects which may fall such as stored items
  • Windows, glazed doors, walls or gates
  • Windows, skylights and the ability to clean them
  • The way in which the premises is organised such as the placement of workstations and equipment
  • Toilet and washing facilities
  • Drinking water, facilities for clothing and changing clothing and areas for rest and meal breaks

Health and safety regulations are crucial in every workplace. If employees are worried about health and safety standards, they should in the first instance speak with their employer, supervisor or representative for health and safety.

About the author:

This article was written by a member of the Expert Answers legal advice team. Expert Answers provides online legal advice on all aspects of UK Law to users in the United Kingdom.