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Law, Guidance & Standards on Health and Safety at Work

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Law, guidance and standards on health and safety at work

The Law

The main piece of health and safety legislation is the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA). All work places are covered by this legislation which says that an employer must do everything reasonably practicable to provide a safe and healthy workplace with adequate welfare facilities. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 is supplemented by various sets of regulations and codes of practice and guidance.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is a government organisation which is in charge of health and safety. The Law on health and safety is divided into Acts of Parliament, Regulations and Approved Codes of Practice (ACOP).


Almost all risks to health and safety arising from work activity are regulated through the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The starting point and main principle of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 is that those who create risk from work activity are responsible for the protection of workers and the public from any consequences. There are other Acts covering health and safety such as consumer and food safety, marine and aviation safety and pollution. The Occupiers Liability Act 1957, the Occupiers Liability Act 1984, the Factories Act 1961 and the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act 1963, all relate to health and safety.

S2 & S3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 impose obligations on employers and self-employed to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of their employees and members of the public who might be affected by their activities. A breach of an Act of Parliament can give rise to criminal liability.


Regulations are made under S15 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.   Some regulations clarify an employer’s general duties, while others talk about the particular requirements for specific hazards. Some of the regulations are supplemented by Approved Codes of Practice, which have a special status in law. Health and safety regulations are made by the appropriate government minister, usually on the basis of submissions from the HSE. HSE makes sure that the express the general duties of employers as well as the principles and goals of Acts of Parliament. Subordinate details are set out in Approved Codes of Practice and accompanying guidance. A breach of regulations can give rise to criminal liability.

There are three different types of regulations. These are;

  • Process regulations
  • Goal setting regulations
  • Standard setting regulations

Regulations fulfil a number of roles. Some clarify particular aspects of general duties, while others introduce particular requirements for specific hazards.

  • Process regulations – these are about the tasks that have to be done in order to control risks in the workplace and other public places. Examples are regulations that require;
  1. Risk assessment
  2. Appointing competent people
  3. Notifying of hazards
  4. Keeping records
  • Goal-setting regulations -these set out the objectives to be achieved but will leave some leeway as to how the objectives should be met. These are the regulations that have phrases such as “so far as is practicable” or “so far as is reasonably practicable”. They allow employers to consider what is practical and reasonable in terms of costs and safety.
  • Standard setting regulations tell you what to do in case of a particular hazard.
  • Approved Codes of Practice (ACOP)

Regulations are supplemented by Approved Codes of Practice (ACOP). S16 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 authorises approved codes of practice which provide practical guidance to the main criminal law duties under S2 – S7 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 as well as the goal-setting regulations made under S15 of the Act.

A failure to observe an ACOP will not give rise to criminal liability, but it will be admissible as evidence in criminal proceedings. They are also very important in Personal Injury claims because they are admissible in civil proceedings as evidence of good practice in the trade and as such are a reflection of current informed thinking in health and safety. The same applies to the guidance notes issued by the Health and Safety Executive.

The introduction to an Approved Code of Practice reads: “This code has been approved by the Health and Safety Executive and gives advice on how to comply with the law. This code has a special legal status. If you are prosecuted for breach of health and safety law, and it is proved that you have not followed the relevant provisions of the code, a court will find you at fault, unless you can show that you have complied with the law in some other way.”


The HSE publishes documents giving information, advice and guidance on different sectors and processes. Guidance notes from the HSE or industry advisory committees do not have the same legal status as Approved Codes of Practice. The HSE says that; “Following the guidance is not compulsory and you are free to take other action. But if you do follow the guidance you will normally be doing enough to comply with the law. Health and Safety inspectors seek to secure compliance with the law and may refer to this guidance as illustrating good practice.”

The HSE has five main types of guidance notes these are;

  • General guidance notes
  • Chemical safety
  • Plant and machinery
  • Medical
  • Environmental hygiene


Trade associations also issue non-statutory standards and codes. These differentiate between approved traders and cowboy operators. Some trade association standards have a limited legal status. As an example, only gas engineers registered with the Health and Safety Executive approved Gas Safe Register (GSR) are legally entitled to work on gas fittings in homes.


The British Standards Institution (BSI) is the National Standards Body which is responsible for facilitating, drafting, publishing and marketing British Standards and other guidelines. It issues many health and safety related British Standards and Codes. Standards issued by the BSI provide guidance on numerous hazards and risks, and are helpful indicators of good practice. Complying with a British Standard does not mean that an employer can ignore their legal obligations under health and safety legislation.



The Carriage of Dangerous Goods and Use of Transportable Pressure Equipment Regulations 2009 applies to the carriage of dangerous goods by road and by rail and to the carriage of dangerous goods by inland waterway as far as the training and examination system for safety advisers is concerned. It also applies to the issuing and renewing vocational training certificates.

HSE – Carriage of dangerous goods manual


The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 place duties on clients, designers and contractors in respect of all construction projects. Larger ‘notifiable’ projects involve additional obligations on these duty-holders, including the appointment by the client of a ‘CDM co-ordinator’ and a ‘principal contractor’, whose duties are specified in the regulations. The definition of ‘construction work’ is extremely wide, bringing many minor repair and maintenance activities within the scope of the regulations. It is important for a construction personal injury claim.

HSE – Managing health and safety in construction


The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 contain many requirements relating to work with asbestos-containing materials (ACMs). Some types of asbestos work may only be carried out by organisations holding an appropriate licence but even where this is not the case, strict precautions must be taken. Many employers will be affected by the duty to manage asbestos in non-domestic premises contained in regulation 4. An assessment must be carried out of the possible presence of ACMs in the premises and also their condition. Suitable measures must then be put in place to manage the asbestos risk. This may involve the removal of ACMs but is more likely to require the establishment of an ACM inspection program and arrangements to prevent ACMs being disturbed or damaged. It is important for an asbestos personal injury claim.

HSE – Managing and working with asbestos


The Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 2015 aim to prevent and mitigate the effects on people and the environment of major accidents involving dangerous substances.

HSE – A guide to the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations


The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 implements the minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to the risks arising from noise. The Regulations impose duties on employers and on self-employed persons to protect both employees who may be exposed to risk from exposure to noise at work and other persons at work who might be affected by that work.

HSE – Noise at work, a brief guide to controlling the risks


The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH), require an assessment to be made of all substances hazardous to health in order to identify means of preventing or controlling exposure. There are also requirements for the proper use and maintenance of control measures and for workplace monitoring and health surveillance in certain circumstances.

HSE – A brief guide to COSHH


Under the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005, employers are required to carry out assessments of risks to their employees from vibration, whether hand-arm vibration (HAV) or whole-body vibration. If exposure action values are exceeded employers must introduce technical and organisational measures to reduce exposure. The regulations set down exposure limit values which must not be exceeded.

HSE – Hand – arm vibration

HSE – Advice for employees


The Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002, apply to substances which have the potential to create risks from fire, explosion and exothermic reactions, including flammable gases and liquids and explosive dusts. Employers are required to carry out risk assessments of activities involving dangerous substances and to implement appropriate control measures.

HSE – Guidance to DSEAR


The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 contain requirements relating to the construction and maintenance of all electrical systems and work activities on or near such systems. They apply to all electrical equipment, from a battery-operated torch to a high-voltage transmission line.

HSE – Electricity and the law


The Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996, require employers to consult workers, whether or not they are covered by trade union safety representatives.

HSE – Consulting employees on health and safety; a brief guide to the law


Where there is significant use of display screen equipment, the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992, state that employers must assess display screen equipment workstations and offer employees eye and eyesight tests.

HSE – Working with display screen equipment


Under the Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981, basic first-aid equipment controlled by an appointed person must be provided for all workplaces. Higher risk activities or larger numbers of employees may require additional equipment and fully trained first-aiders.

HSE – First aid at work


The Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996, require safety signs to be provided, where appropriate, for risks which cannot adequately be controlled by other means. Signs must be of the prescribed design and colours.

HSE – Safety signs and signals


Under the Health and Safety (Training for Employment) Regulations 1990, those receiving ‘relevant training’ are treated as being ‘at work’ for the purposes of health and safety law. The provider of the ‘relevant training’ is deemed to be their employer – youth trainees and students on work experience placements therefore have the status of employees and must be protected accordingly.


Lifting equipment is defined in the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998, as ‘work equipment for lifting and lowering loads’. As well as cranes, chain-blocks, passenger lifts and mobile elevating work platforms, this definition includes vehicle tail lifts, bath hoists and many other types of equipment. All lifting equipment must be of adequate strength and stability and meet other specific design and installation criteria. It must be subjected to periodic thorough examinations and inspections and all lifting operations must be properly planned, appropriately supervised and carried out in a safe manner.


Employers and the self-employed are required under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, to manage the health and safety aspects of their activities in a systematic and responsible way. The Regulations include requirements for risk assessment, the availability of competent health and safety advice and emergency procedures.


Under the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992manual handling operations involving risk of injury must either be avoided or be assessed by the employer with steps taken to reduce the risk, so far as is reasonably practicable.


Under the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 employers must assess the personal protective equipment (PPE) needs created by their work activities, provide the necessary PPE, and take reasonable steps to ensure its use.


The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 cover equipment safety, including the guarding of machinery. The definition of ‘work equipment’ also includes hand tools, vehicles, laboratory apparatus, lifting equipment, access equipment etc. The Regulations include requirements in respect of mobile work equipment.


The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 sets out legal requirements dealing with fire matters (including requirements for Fire Certificates). Enforcement of the Order is normally carried out by the local fire and rescue authority. An assessment must be made of the fire risks and the adequacy of existing fire precautions. The assessment must take into account fire prevention measures, fire detection and alarm equipment, fire escape routes and evacuation procedures, fire fighting equipment and fire-related signs.

HSE – Fire safety


Under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR) fatal accidents, major injuries (as defined) and dangerous occurrences (as defined) must be reported immediately to the enforcing authority. Accidents involving four or more days’ absence must be reported in writing within seven days (since 6 April 2012, these accidents must still be recorded in the employers’ records, but need only be reported if the absence is seven or more days (not including the day of the accident) and in writing within 15 days of the accident).


Under the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 , members of recognised trade unions may appoint safety representatives to represent them formally in consultations with their employer in respect of health and safety issues. The functions and rights of safety representatives are detailed in the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977. The employer must establish a safety committee if at least two representatives request this in writing.


The Work at Height Regulations 2005 impose health and safety requirements with respect to work at height, with certain exceptions relating to recreational climbing and caving.


Physical working conditions in the workplace together with safe access for pedestrians and vehicles and welfare provisions are covered by the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992.

Last Updated: [11/09/2021]