The Health and Safety at
Work Act 1974 – An Overview
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 imposes general duties on everybody
connected with work. The Act contains:
- Regulations- these are legally binding and give details to act on
- ACOPs (Approved Codes of Practice) – these are an accepted way
to meet regulations, they are not legally binding but are quasi legal;
- Guidance Notes – these are not legally binding and have no
legal standing but are recognised as a supplement to ACOPs.
Sections 19 and 20 of the act appoint Her Majesty’s Inspectors
and give them the power to act.
The general duties contained in the Health and Safety at Work Act are:
Section 1: States the general purposes of Part 1 of the Act, which are
to maintain or improve standards of health and safety at work, to protect
other people against risks arising from work activities, to control the
storage and use of dangerous substances and to control certain emissions
into the air.
Section 2: Contains the duties placed upon employers with regard to their
employees. These are outlined more fully below.
Section 3: Places duties on employers and the self-employed to ensure
their activities do not endanger anybody (with the self-employed that
includes themselves), and to provide information, in certain circumstances,
to the public about any potential hazards.
Section 4: Places a duty on those in control of premises, which are non-domestic
and used as a place of work, to ensure they do not endanger those who
work within them. This extends to plant and substances, means of access
and egress as well as to the premises themselves.
Section 6: Places duties on manufacturers, suppliers, designers, importers
etc. in relation to articles and substances used at work. Basically they
have to research and test them and supply information to users.
Section 7: Places duties upon employees and these are outlined more fully
Section 8: Places a duty on everyone not to intentionally or recklessly
interfere with or misuse anything provided in the interests of health,
safety and welfare.
Section 9: Provides that an employer may not charge his employees for
anything done, or equipment provided for health and safety purposes under
a relevant statutory provision.
Section 2(1) Ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees
while at work.
Section 2(2)(a-e) Without prejudice to the above, the matters to which
the duty extends include:
(a) Provision and maintenance of safe plant and safe systems of work.
(b) Arrangements for ensuring safe means of handling, use, storage and
transport of articles and substances.
(c) Provision of information, instruction, training and supervision
(d) Provision of a safe place of work and provision and maintenance
of safe access and egress to that workplace.
(e) Provision and maintenance of a safe working environment and adequate
welfare facilities. (Note: The above duties are all qualified by the
term "so far as is reasonably practicable".)
Section 7 (a-b) it shall be the duty of every employee while at work:
(a) To take reasonable care for the health and safety of himself and
others who may be affected by his acts or omissions at work.
(b) To co-operate with his employer or any other person, so far as is
necessary, to enable his employer or other person to perform or comply
with any requirement or duty imposed under a relevant statutory provision.
(Note: These duties have been extended by duties contained in the Management
of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.)
The Safety Policy
Under Section 2(3) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974:
Every employer shall prepare (and as often as may be appropriate revise)
a written statement of his general policy with respect to:
a) The health and safety at work of his employees; and
b) The organisation and arrangements in force for the time being for
carrying out that policy, and bring the statement and any revision of
it to the notice of all his employees.
The above duty has been modified by the Employers' Health and Safety
Policy Statements (Exception) Regulations 1975 to exempt employers, who,
for the time being, employ less than five employees, from the need to
have a written policy (although not from the need to have a policy as
The Health and Safety Policy should contain:
- A General Statements of Intent, dated and signed by the owner or
- The Organisation, who is responsible for doing what with regard to
health and safety.
- The Arrangements, in practice these are often divided into general
arrangements (fire procedures, emergency procedures, first-aid facilities,
emergency procedures, risk assessment arrangements, etc.) which apply
to all employees and specific arrangements (how to use certain pieces
of equipment, how to handled certain substances, etc.) which only apply
to specific employees.