What does the Health and Safety at Work Act do

“It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.” – HSWA, Part 1, General Duties, Section 2, (1).

The Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA) is a piece of legislation written up in 1974 which implements a certain set of standards for health and safety on all UK employers that they must meet in order to protect the welfare of their employees. The act covers health and safety in every type of workplace from restaurants through to chemical engineering plants, making sure that all risks and possibilities are defined and protected against.

A brief overview of the content of the act includes:

  • Training all staff members adequately in health and safety procedures so they are followed and understood.
  • A safe work environment in which all operations are carried out safely.
  • Employers are to provide satisfactory welfare provisions for their staff.
  • The availability of information, instruction and supervision as far as is reasonably practical.

The HSWA does not only provide health and safety measures for employees, but also everyone who visits the premises, be that temporary workers, customers and visitors. The employer must provide a certain level of health, safety and welfare protection to all who are on site. For employees, the employer must provide for more than just safety in high risk scenarios (e.g. maintenance of equipment and sanitation), but also the welfare of the employees. For example, the employer must provide facilities for the comfort and sanitation of their employees (e.g. break rooms, bathrooms) and provide the correct working environment (e.g. sufficient lighting and ventilation).

This is justified by the phrase “so far is as reasonably practicable”, meaning employers can argue that the reduction in risk may not be worth the cost. For example, if an employee slips and falls when working behind a bar on a wet floor, the employer can justify that the cost of getting no-slip mats will not reduce the risk of falling if the employees can clean the floor as they go along. Therefore, if the employer can justify that the reduction in risk is not worth the cost then they have no contractual or lawful obligations to change those things. This being said, it does not mean that an employer can avoid their responsibilities as health and safety provider by simply claiming that they cannot afford to make improvements as this is neglecting the care of their employees.

The people who enforce and regulate the rules on health, safety and welfare within the workplace are Health and Safety Executives (HSE). HSE’s enforce the employer duties that are defined under HSWA and can issue penalties to those who do not comply, including prohibition notices and even criminal prosecution in some cases.

There are a number of regulations that accompany the HSWA, including Display Screen Equipment Regulations (DSE) and Personal Protective Equipment Regulations (PPE). These regulations provide specific health and safety requirements for those who work in specific environments, like construction and office work. As the HSWA applies to all work environments and business sectors, no employer is exempt, and it is the employer’s job, first and foremost, to protect the wellbeing of their employees.

All of this may seem overwhelming, and to the untrained eye it can be. However there are so many ways to make abiding by this law easy. You can get yourself a H&S advisor who can help you get all your systems in order. Or you can train your own staff to manage the Health and Safety of your business, without any extra costs. Interested? Click here to find out more

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