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Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974



This is the single most important piece of legislation on health and safety. It applies to every work situation and it is what is called an "Enabling Act", as it enables the Secretary of State to make delegated legislation and therefore almost all other health and safety legislation is in the form of regulations made under the Health and Safety at Work Etc Act (HSAWA). This Act also led to the formation of the Health and Safety Executive which enforces health and safety legislation and the Health and Safety Commission which is the policy making body to which the HSE reports.

The HSAWA defines general duties for the health and safety of those involved in work and this includes employers, employees, the self employed, suppliers of work equipment and those who control work premises. These general duties are explained below.

General Duties of Employers to Their Employees

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.

This is further defined as:

  1. The provision and maintenance of safe plant and safe systems of work.
  2. Arrangements for ensuring health and safety in connection with the use, storage, handling and transport of articles and substances.
  3. The provision of such information, instruction, training and supervision as is necessary.
  4. The provision of a safe place of work and safe means of access to and egress from it.
  5. The provision and maintenance of a safe and healthy working environment.

Policy Document

The Act further requires that employers of five or more people prepare and maintain a written statement of their policy with respect to the health and safety of their employees. Further information about the content of the policy document is contained in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations.

General Duties of Employers and the Self Employed to Persons Other than their Employees

This requires an employer or the self employed to carry out their work in such a way that it does not affect the health and safety of others such as the employees of other employers or members of the general public.

Duties of Persons Who Control Premises

Duties are placed upon such persons to ensure that, so far as is reasonably practicable, the premises are safe and without risks to the health of:

  1. People working on the premises who are not the employees of the person in control of the premises.
  2. Any persons who use plant and substances made available to them for their use on the premises.

This is aimed at those such as landlords or site owners. It requires them to consider the health and safety of anyone who comes on to the premises to use plant or equipment. Domestic premises are not included.

Duties of Designers, Manufacturers and Suppliers of Articles and Substances for Use at Work

An article for use at work is defined as "any plant or component designed for use or operation by persons at work". The duties referred to above are:

  1. Ensure that articles are designed and constructed so as to be safe and without health risks when being installed, used, cleaned or maintained.
  2. Ensure that substances are safe and without health risks when being used, handled, processed, stored or transported.
  3. Carry out, or arrange for the carrying out , of testing, research and examination which may be necessary to comply with a) and b) above.
  4. Provide information about the use for which the product has been designed and tested, and about any conditions necessary to ensure that, when put to use or being dismantled or disposed of, the product will be safe and without health risks.
  5. Take steps to inform those who have been supplied with an article or substance, of any new information which may give rise to a serious risk to health and safety.

These duties also require installers and erectors of articles for use in connection with construction work eg tower cranes and scaffolding, to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that no health and safety hazards arise from the way in which they are installed or erected.

These requirements of the Health and Safety at Work Etc Act have been reinforced by the more specific requirements of other sets of regulations:

  • The Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 1992 which set European product standards for new or modified machinery. From 1st January 1955 most new machinery supplied or imported into the UK must comply with these Regulations which require that machinery meeting the specified safety standards carries a 'CE' mark.
  • The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER 98) which place duties on employers to meet health and safety requirements for new and existing equipment for use at work.
  • The Chemicals (Hazard Information and Packaging for Supply) Regulations which require dangerous substances and preparation to be adequately labelled and information provided as to their hazards.

General Duties of Employees at Work

The duties are:

  1. To take reasonable care of his own health and safety at work and that of other people who may be affected by what he does, or does not do, whilst carrying out his duties
  2. To co-operate with his employer or any other person so far as is necessary to enable his employer or any other person to comply with any statutory duties imposed on him.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations have extended these duties. They require that employees carry out any work in accordance with any training or instruction given and to inform the employer of any health and safety problems.

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