Some of the most important legal duties under The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSW Act) is the primary legislation covering occupational health and safety in Great Britain. It sets out the duties of employers, employees, the self-employed, manufacturers, designers, suppliers, and those in control of premises to ensure the health and safety of individuals at work.

The HSW Act aims to prevent injury and ill health to individuals in the workplace by ensuring that their health and safety are protected. It puts an obligation on employers to assess and manage risks in the workplace, as well as to provide adequate welfare facilities. Employers must also provide appropriate information, instruction, training, and supervision to ensure the safety of their employees.

Section 2: General duties of employers to their employees

Every employer must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees, including:

  • the provision and maintenance of plant and systems of work that are safe and without risks to health
  • arrangements for ensuring health and safety with the use, handling, storage and transport of articles and substances
  • the provision of information, instruction, training and supervision to ensure, the health and safety at work of employees
  • maintenance of any workplace, under his control, in a healthy and safe condition, including any means of access and egress
  • the provision and maintenance of a safe and healthy working environment with adequate facilities and arrangements for the welfare of employees at work

Section 3: Duties of employers and self-employed to others

Every employer and self-employed person must conduct their business, ensuring so far as is reasonably practicable that non-employees are not harmed.

Self-employed persons are also required to protect themselves from risks to their own health and safety.

Section 4: Duty of person in control of premises for health and safety of non-employees

Any person who has control of work premises must take all reasonable measures to ensure that all are safe. This includes the means of access or egress or any plant or substance in the premises.

The duty overlaps with the general duties of sections 2 and 3, which would take precedence when there is clearly an employer’s duty. The aim is to place a duty on whoever has the power to remedy a particular source of hazard, even if they are not an employer.

Examples of the application of this duty include:

  • Coin-operated launderettes used by the public. If no one is employed, there will be no employer’s duty. However, the business owner would have some control of the premises and therefore have a section 4 duty.
  • A maintenance contractor servicing a lift in the common parts of a multi-occupied office block. If there is no apparent employer’s duty, the landlord or site agent would have duties under this section.

Section 6: Duties of designers, manufacturers, importers, suppliers and installers

This section places a general obligation on anyone in the supply chain, so far as reasonably practicable, for when articles or substances for use at work are being used, set, cleaned or maintained. This obligation includes providing information and instructions on safe use, including any subsequent revisions to that information and testing/examination necessary to ensure compliance.

Any person who designs, manufactures, imports, or supplies any article or substance for use at work has duties to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable:

  • that the article or substance is safe and without risks to health when properly used
  • any necessary research and testing or examination of the article or substance is properly undertaken
  • adequate information is provided to ensure its safe use

Erectors and installers must ensure that nothing about how an article intended for work is erected or installed make it unsafe or a risk to health when properly used. Examples:

  • new and second-hand articles designed for use at work, whether for sale or hire
  • items which though capable of domestic use are designed to be also used at work
  • all substances, including micro-organisms, which are supplied to workplaces

Section 7: General Duties of Employees at Work

Every employee has the following two duties while at work:

  • to take reasonable care for the health and safety of himself and of other persons who may be affected by his acts or omissions at work
  • to co-operate with his employer so far as is necessary to enable the employer to comply with his own duties

Section 8: Duty to not interfere with or misuse anything provided in the interests of health, safety or welfare

No person shall intentionally or recklessly interfere with or misuse anything provided in the interests of health, safety or welfare, whether for the protection of employees or other persons. This duty is imposed on all people, including children, at work or members of the public.

Section 9: Duty of employer not to levy a charge on employees

The employer cannot charge an employee (or allow an employee to be charged) for anything done or provided to comply with health and safety legislation.

Section 36: Offences Due to Fault of Another

If ‘A’ commits an offence because of an act or default of ‘B’, then ‘B’ may also be charged and convicted of the offence as well as, or instead of ‘A’.

‘A’ and ‘B’ can refer to individuals or organisations.

The section also allows Crown servants, such as civil servants, to be prosecuted even though the Crown as employer is immune from prosecution.

Section 37: Offences by a Body Corporate

Where an offence committed by a body corporate (e.g. an organisation) is proved to have been committed with the

  • consent (permission for something to happen )
  • connivance (willingness to allow or be secretly involved in an immoral or illegal activity)
  • neglect (fail to care properly and can include a situation where they ought to have been aware of certain circumstances but were not)

…of any director, manager, secretary or similar officer, that person may also be charged and convicted of the offence.