Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974

The Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974 protects employees, and members of the public, from sustaining injury caused by work related activities. The Act provides a legal framework which encourages and enforces high standards of workplace health and safety practice.

Duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974

The duty to comply with the Act applies to everyone involved in workplace activity, such as:

  • Employers
  • Employees
  • Manufacturers, suppliers and importers of workplace equipment

Failure to comply with relevant legislation under the Act may result in legal action.

What are employer's duties and responsibilities?

The Act places a duty of care on employers to 'ensure so far as is reasonably practicable the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees'. Employers have ?strict liability' for personal injury in the workplace caused by a failure to do so.

In practice, employers must provide their employees with:

  • Adequately maintained safety equipment and safe work processes
  • Safe storage facilities for workplace materials, safe handling, usage and transport practices for these materials
  • Health and safety training, information and supervision
  • A safe workplace environment
  • Written safety policies and risk assessments

Under the Act, an employer cannot charge employees for:

  • Costs of implementing health and safety measures  
  • Costs of providing essential health and safety equipment

Employers also have a duty to ensure the safety of non-employees. This duty can apply to persons such as visitors to an employer's premises, or members of the public affected by an employer's work related actions.  

What are employee's duties and responsibilities?

The Act places specific responsibilities on employees in the workplace. Employees must:

  • Take responsibility for their health and safety, and that of other persons
  • Comply with workplace safety practices and complete safety training
  • Leave in place health and safety related items provided by the employer

Failure of employees to take reasonable steps to ensure health and safety in the workplace may result in legal action.

How is health and safety legislation enforced?

Health and Safety inspectors have considerable powers in the workplace, such as the right to:

  • Enter premises without making an appointment
  • Investigate and examine premises and equipment
  • Take equipment or substances away for investigation
  • Employ assistance from colleagues or Police officers
  • Ask questions under caution
  • Seize imminently dangerous items or substances

Health and Safety Executive Officers carry out inspections of larger businesses, such as manufacturing plants and large industrial sites. Local Authority Environmental Health Officers carry out inspections of smaller business types. 

What action can be taken if health and safety legislation is breached?

Legal Notices can be issued requiring that something must be done, or ceased.

  • Improvement Notices detail what is currently wrong. These Notices also provide advice on how to remedy this, within a set time limit
  • Prohibition Notices impose immediate action. These Notices prohibit the use of unsafe equipment, or the continuation of unsafe working practices

Prosecution can be brought against both employers and employees.  Penalties for health and safety breaches can be:

  • maximum fine of £5,000 - in Magistrate's Court
  • An unlimited fine and jail  - in Crown Court

The penalty imposed by the Court will be commensurate with the severity of the breach and any personal injury caused.