29th Oct, 2019 Read time 9 minutes

Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 Explained

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASAWA) is a piece of legislation introduced to apply some broad duties and best practices for employers in regards to the health and safety of their workforce. This includes a duty of care for employees, casual workers, self-employed workers, clients, visitors, and the general public.

Whilst The Health and Safety at Work Act may seem intimidating the fundamentals that you need to do as an employer can be broken down into manageable sections. Our guide explains The Health and Safety at Work Act in an accessible manner.

Here we break down the following: 

  • What The Health and Safety at Work Act is
  • The employer responsibilities
  • The employee responsibilities
  • The other regulations that come under the Act (including RIDDOR, PPE, and DSE)
  • Additional information on the Act
  • Whether or not the Act has been impacted by Brexit in 2021

What is The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974?

The Health and Safety at Work Act is a key Act of Parliament which determines the framework by which all health and safety is managed in the workplace. The legislation covers both the obligations for employers and employees. These can be found in sections 2 and sections 7/8 respectively.

The supplementary forms of legislation that support the Act are known as ‘statutory instruments’ and help make minor changes to the main legislation.

All aspects of the act are subject to compliance by employers ‘as far as is reasonably practicable’. This allows employers the chance to defend themselves if they can show the cost of taking certain health and safety measures are not worth the potential process benefit.

The Health and Safety Executive was set up as a governing body to help companies comply with the legislation.

What are the employer responsibilities for The Health and Safety at Work Act? 

The HSAWA outlines the responsibilities that an employer has to their workers. They include the following:

  • A safe system/way of performing work
  • A safe place to perform the work in
  • Safe equipment and machinery to perform the work
  • They must ensure work colleagues are competent in their roles
  • They must carry out the relevant risk assessments
  • Employers should be transparent and inform workers of any work-related risks
  • They should appoint a ‘competent person’ to oversee the health and safety
  • Employers must consult with workplace safety representatives and set up a workplace safety committee if a union is recognised
  • Employers should provide adequate facilities for staff welfare

Other overarching areas that the legislation enforces employers to do is provide training for staff to ensure all health and safety practices and procedures are well understood in the workplace. Suitable welfare provisions also need to be provided for staff when they are at work. Provisions al need to made to make sure that a safe working environment is provided with suitable provision over the relevant information.

Workplaces which have five or more employees must keep a written and up-to-date record of their health and safety policy which has been developed through consultation with employees or their represented on the relevant areas.


What are the employee responsibilities for The Health and Safety at Work Act? 

Whilst the bulk of the legislation has been developed to govern the responsibilities of the employer, there are some steps that employees also need to follow. Employees have a common-law duty of care to exercise reasonable care and skill in the relationship with colleagues and the employer. Here are some of the areas where employees need to make sure they are compliant:

  • Employees should take steps to adequately protect the health and safety of themselves and colleagues at work
  • Employees must not disrupt or interfere with anything put in place to aid in health and safety at work
  • Employees may be subject to fines and convictions if they are found in breach of the regulations

As shown health and safety in many ways is the responsibility of all those within a workplace, not just the managers and employers within an organisation.


What are the other regulations that come under the Act?

As mentioned various statutory instruments and amendments have been brought into the overarching Health and Safety at Work Act in order to keep people safe when they are at work. Some of these include the provision for good protective equipment (PPE) and the adequate safeguarding of workers who are using display equipment. In this section, we take a look at what these different regulations cover.


Personal Protective Equipment Regulations (PPE) 2018

The PPE Regulations attempt to protect employees who operate in a dangerous environment that presents additional risks during working operations. Employers must provide PPE where harm cannot be reduced through other methods; in this way, PPE acts as a last line of defence against hazards.

Risk assessments must be provided prior to the provision of PPE to work out what type of risks are present and what type of resulting equipment is needed to mitigate them. Some of the main examples of PPE include:

  • Hard hats
  • High-visibility jackets
  • protective eyewear
  • safety harnesses
  • steel toe cap boots
  • respiratory equipment

In terms of what employers need to do, they must provide a suitable provision of PPE that is appropriate for the work in hand and effective against the hazards present.

Where more than one kind of PPE needs to be worn, the effectiveness cannot be compromised. All PPE must work together to protect against different risks.  PPE must also be stored properly and kept in good operational condition. Replacements parts must also be changed when needed for certain types of PPE.

Employees must also be properly trained on how to use and properly wear the PPE provided. This will help ensure it can properly protect against the hazards present. Employees must report any damages to or losses of PPE to the employer so that replacements can be attained.


Display Screen Equipment Regulations (DSE) 1992 (amended 2002)

These regulations cover those who use DSE at work for more than one hour at a time. Employers should take risks to reduce the health risks associated with DSE equipment such as ergonimical issues and RSI (Repetetive Strain Injury). Here are some of areas you need to cover if you want to be compliant with the DSE (1992) regulations:

  • Make sure workers take regular breaks and make use of equipment which can reduce risks
  • fill in an adequate DSE workstation assessment
  • provide eye and eyesight tests for free when requested
  • give training on how to use DSE equipment safely

It is worth stating that these regulations remain important even with many workers operating remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In many cases, the risks may have changed so it is worth checking in on employees.


The RIDDOR Regulations (2002)

the RIDDOR regulations are important in the world of health and safety as they cover the reporting of accidents and dangerous incidents/occurrences in the workplace. As an employer, you should ensure everyone has a good understanding of the RIDDOR regulations and why needs to fill out a report should an applicable incident occur in the workplace.

Here’s one of our videos which gives you a quick introduction to some of the concepts behind the RIDDOR regulations.


Additional information on The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974


What are the safety regulations?

Safety regulations are the highest form of official guidance that employers must follow. They are often proposed by the Health and Safety Executive. These regulations can be all-encompassing or in some cases apply to certain industries and circumstances.


What are the approved codes of best practice?

The approved codes of best practice are designed to offer guidance to those trying to implement a robust health and safety policy. Whilst failure to follow an approved code of best practice (ACOP) is not in itself illegal, you will need to show that your workplaces have implemented equally effective methods to comply with the law.


How do I comply with The Health and Safety at Work Act?

To comply with the HSAWA you should follow the requirements outlined previously. Firstly having a written down health and safety policy will help you establish how to have a safe workplace. Carrying out regular risk assessments will also help you manage hazards in your workplace.

Beyond the basics, you must ensure you follow the recommended guidance depending on what industry you operate in. For example, the construction industry may need to consider more carefully the provision of PPE than more office-based professions.


Update: Has Brexit Impacted the Health and Safety at Work Act? 


Whilst the recent deal reached by the UK and the EU has provided some changes, there are currently minimal changes planned for The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Whilst the UK now in theory has the power to change the legislation without governance from the EU, it is thought that minimal changes will be pushed or implemented for the foreseeable future.

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