Health and Safety in the Workplace

What is Health and Safety?

Health and Safety is a set of laws, rules and principles that are intended to keep people safe from injury, accident, or disease at work and/or in public places.

The main law that dictates H&S in the workplace is The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA).

Health and Safety Legislation

Part 1 of HSWA applies (with limited exceptions) to everyone ‘at work’ and lays out the duties of those it is applicable which include:

  • Employers
  • Employees
  • Self-Employed
  • Those in control of non-domestic premises
  • Manufacturer and suppliers of articles and substances

What Was There before Health and Safety at Work Act?

Before the HSWA, the UK had no real legislation that dealt with safety for workers in the workplace.

What Additional Hleath and Safety Legislation has there been?

However, since the establishment of HSWA 1974, there have been several laws pertaining to H&S in the workplace developed:

  • Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (MHSWR) 1999
  • The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulation (RIDDOR) 2013
  • Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977

Key Sections of Health and Safety at Work Act 1974

There are four key sections of the HSAW:

  • Firstly, Section 2: – HSWA states that there is a duty on employers to ensure ‘reasonably practicable’ health and safety of all employees at work
  • Secondly, Section 3: – States the employers so far as ‘reasonably practicable’ has a responsibility to ensure the health and safety of any non-employees
  • Thirdly, Section 7: – pertains to employees themselves. In that employees do have a duty to themselves to take reasonable care for their own health safety and wellbeing whilst at work. Individual employees must also take care to protect other employees H&S if their actions, bad practice or non-compliance may affect another’s H&S
  • Finally, Section 33: – states there is a duty on directors and senior managers that means they may be prosecuted if found to have knowingly, willingly or neglectfully committed an offence of non-compliance.

What are the General Duties of HSWA?

General duties of the HSWA ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees is of the utmost priority at work. However, part 1 of HSWA also helps to protect non-employees, that is, any person(s) that may be affected by the business concerned. Including but not exclusively:

  • Members of the public on-site
  • Contractors 
  • Site visitors

The HSWA part 1 sets out guidelines against health and safety risks such as the keeping and/or use of:

  • Explosive 
  • Highly flammable 
  • Dangerous substances

For example, most fires are preventable, particularly in the workplace. Therefore, those responsible must ensure ‘fire safe’ behaviours and procedures are adopted to prevent such.

What else is important in Health and Safety at Work Act?

Another important action that should be taken by employers is monitoring the effectiveness of the policies and procedures a business puts in place to help eliminate and reduce risks in the workplace.

As part of this monitoring, there should be an investigation into any incidents to ensure that corrective action is taken, learning is shared and any necessary improvements are put in place.

What Requires a Health and Safety Investigation?

The following are events that should require an investigation procedure to take place to prevent any future/further issues:

  • An accident: an event leading to injury or ill-health
  • An incident: which can be defined as:
  • A near miss: an event not causing harm, but has the potential to cause injury or ill health (in this guidance, the term near miss will include dangerous occurrences)
  • An undesired circumstance: a set of conditions or circumstances that have the potential to cause injury or ill health, e.g. untrained nurses handling heavy patients
  • Dangerous occurrence: one of many specific, reportable adverse events defined by RIDDOR 2013