Health & Safety at Work Act 1974

Introduction
The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 is the major piece of health and safety legislation in Great Britain. It provides the legal framework to promote, stimulate and encourage high standards.

Previous Acts had concentrated upon prescription of solutions within the law; a series of Factories Acts in particular had raised standards progressively since 1833 by stipulating what measures needed to be taken in factories, and although the legislative base was gradually widened to include other kinds of premises, modern work practices and businesses were no longer fully covered by legislation by the end of the third quarter of the last century.

Consultations carried out by the Robens Committee between 1970 and 1972 produced the basis of a new type of law - one which placed responsibility on employers and employees together to produce their own solutions to health and safety problems, subject to the test of reasonably practicable.

The Act introduced for the first time, a comprehensive and integrated system dealing with workplace health and safety and the protection of the public from work activities. By placing duties of a general character upon employers, employees, the self-employed, manufacturers, designers and importers of work equipment and materials, the protection of the law, rights and responsibilities are available and given to all at work.

An "enabling" Act, much of the text is devoted to the legal machinery for creating administrative bodies, combining others and detailing powers of inspection and enforcement. The Health and Safety Commission carries responsibility for policy making and enforcement, answerable to the Secretary of State for the Environment. Its operating arm is the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), whose functions range from enforcement to research and European liaison on standards.

General Duties of Employers

Employers must, as far as is reasonably practicable, safeguard the health, safety and welfare of employees (Section2). In particular, this extends to the provision and maintainance of:

  1. safe plant and safe systems of work
  2. safe handling, storage, maintenance and transport of (work) articles and substances
  3. necessary information, instruction, training and supervision
  4. a safe place of work, with safe access and egress
  5. a safe working environment with adequate welfare facilities

General Duties of Employees

Employees must take reasonable care of their own health and safety and that of others who may be affected by their acts or omissions (Section 7).

They must also co-operate with their employer, so far as is necessary, to enable the employer to comply with his duties under the Act. It is an offence for anyone to intentionally or recklessly interfere with or misuse anything provided in the interests of health, safety or welfare (Section 8).