Health and Safety at Work Act 1974

Before 1974 approximately 8 million employees had no legal safety protection at work. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 provides the legal framework to promote, stimulate and encourage high standards of health and safety in places of work. It protects employees and the public from work activities.

Everyone has a duty to comply with the Act, including employers, employees, trainees, self-employed, manufacturers, suppliers, designers, importers of work equipment.

Employers' responsibilities

The Act places a general duty to 'ensure so far as is reasonably practicable the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees'.

Employers must comply with the Act. They must:

  • provide and maintain safety equipment and safe systems of work
  • ensure materials used are properly stored, handled, used and transported
  • provide information, training, instruction and supervision - ensure staff are aware of instructions provided by manufacturers and suppliers of equipment
  • provide a safe place of employment
  • provide a safe working environment
  • provide a written safety policy/risk assessment
  • look after the health and safety of others, for example the public
  • talk to safety representatives

An employer is forbidden to charge his or her employees for any measures which he or she is required to provide in the interests of health and safety (for example, personal protective equipment).


Employees’ responsibilities

Employees have specific responsibilities too - they must:

  • take care of their own health and safety and that of other persons (employees may be liable)
  • co-operate with their employers
  • not interfere with anything provided in the interest of health and safety

Enforcement of Health and Safety legislation

For your type of business the Local Authority Environmental Health Officer  will be your enforcement officer. For manufacturing or large construction or industrial sites the Health and Safety Executive carries out inspections.

The powers of an inspector include:

  • rights of entry at reasonable times (without appointments)
  • right to investigate and examine
  • right to dismantle equipment and take substances or equipment
  • right to see documents and take copies
  • right to assistance (from colleagues or Police)
  • right to ask questions under caution
  • right to seize articles or substances in cases of imminent danger

Enforcement action

 1. Legal Notices - Written document requires person to do/stop doing something.

  1. Improvement: say what is wrong and how to put right within a set time.
  2. Prohibition: prohibits use of equipment/unsafe practices immediately.

 2. Prosecution - Both employers and employees face prosecution.

  1. Maximum £5000 in Magistrates' Court
  2. Unlimited fine and jail in Crown Court.

Enforcement officers will give advice and explain anything you are not sure about.