Health and Safety at Work Act 1974

This article lists the main points you need to know about the UK Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASAWA).

The main objectives of the ACT are:

  1. Secure the health, safety and welfare of people at work
  2. Protecting people (other than those at work) against risks to their health and safety arising out of work activities

The Health & Safety at Work Act or HASAWA for short applies to all work activity and situations.  It imposes duties on everyone concerned with work and workplace activities.  This includes: employers, the self-employed and employees; manufacturers, designers and suppliers; and people in control of premises.

Duties are imposed both on individuals and employing organisations in a way that encourages wide ranging views of their roles and responsibilities.

The HASAWA is the core legislation in the UK that defines what employers must do in order to keep their employees safe.   The term ‘Regulation’ refers to subsequent laws that flow from and add details to the HASAWA.  Specific regulations have been created since 1974 that focus on high risk situations, eg, COSHH, FIRE SAFETY, FIRST AID REGULATIONS or low risk hazards that are prevalent eg, DISPLAY SCREEN EQUIPMENT REGULATIONS 1992)

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Employer Responsibilities – Below we detail the key sections of the HASAWA (HSE Act 1974) and employer duties with respect to each section.

Section 2

General duties of employers to their employees

“Every employer has to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.”

Examples of the extent of the general duty include

  • 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; and
  • 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 to non- employees

“Every employer has a duty to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment, who may be affected, are not exposed to risks to their health and safety.”

Test Case: R v Associated Octel Ltd (1994)

Associated Octel Ltd maintained its plant and equipment during factory shutdown each year. In 1990, this work was carried out by Resin Glass Products (RGP) Ltd as contractors. An employee of RGP cleaning the inside of a tank was badly burned because of an explosion inside the tank.

RGP Ltd was convicted under section 2 of the Act and Associated Octel Ltd was convicted under section 3 for failing to protect non-employees from health and safety risks from their “undertaking.”

Associated Octel appealed arguing that RGP was an independent contractor and that the work was not part of Associated Octel’s ‘undertaking’ and that s.3 did not involve liability for the actions of independent contractors.

The appeal was dismissed. The word “undertaking” means “business” or “enterprise” and this activity was clearly part of Associated Octel’s ‘undertaking’ as the tank was part of their plant and the work formed part of their planned maintenance programme.

Associated Octel should have specified the necessary requirements for avoiding risks to health and safety.

Section 4

Duty of person in control of premises

Any person who has, to any extent control of…

  • Work premises
  • The means of access or egress
  • Any plant or substance in such premises

…has a duty to take all reasonable measures to ensure that all are safe and without risks to the health of both employees and non-employees.

This duty overlaps with the general duties of sections 2 and 3.   The aim with section 4 is to place a duty on whoever has the power to remedy a particular source of hazard if its not clearly and employer or contractor.

Section 6

Duties of designers, manufacturers, importers, suppliers and installers

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.

Directors and installers have a duty to ensure that nothing about the way in which an article intended for work is erected or installed makes it unsafe or a risk to health when properly used.

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 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.

NB This duty is imposed on all people, including children, be they at work or members of the public.

Section 36

Offences Due to Fault of another Person

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

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

Test case:  R v Lockwood (2001)

Lockwood, an occupational hygienist, was successfully prosecuted under section 36 for failing to carry out a proper assessment of workers’ exposure to hazardous dust at a woodworking factory.

The woodworking company was also prosecuted under section 2. The court held that the company had not selected the best occupational hygienist for its needs. “… when relevant competencies are absent, it shows in the end result.”

Section 37

Offences by a Body Corporate

Where an offence committed by a body corporate is proved to have been committed with the consent, connivance, or neglect of any director, manager, secretary or similar officer, the director may also be charged and convicted of the offence.

Test case: Director Prosecution (2011)

Anglia Lead Ltd and its director have been fined after workers were exposed to high levels of lead at its factory in Norfolk. Staff suffered the exposure as they cast molten lead into lead sheeting.

Anglia Lead Ltd had numerous health and safety failings. The HSE investigation found that the company and its director had:

  • Failed to provide suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to health created by work involving lead;
  • Failed to adequately control exposure to lead;
  • Failed to provide sufficient control measures, including lack of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), no adequate local exhaust ventilation system to remove lead fumes from the workplace, no adequate clothes washing system and no adequate hygiene controls;
  • Failed to provide employees with suitable information, instruction and training;
  • Failed to suitably investigate when occupational exposure level limits were exceeded and action levels reached; and
  • Failed to provide air monitoring as regularly as required.

The company appeared at Norwich Magistrates’ Court and admitted failing to ensure the health and safety of its workers, breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act.  Director Carlton Edwards admitted committing the same offence in his capacity as a company director.

Magistrates fined the company £10,000 and Mr Edwards a further £10,000. The company was also ordered to pay full prosecution costs of £10,556.

Section 40

Onus of proving limits of what is practicable etc.

In proceedings for an offence consisting of a failure to comply with a duty or requirement to do something so far as is practicable or reasonably practicable, the accused has to prove that it was not practicable or not reasonably practicable to do more than was done.

You now understand the key section and responsibilities of the HASAWA.  You can read the full ACT can be found here.  If you wish to learn more you can undertake our short Health & Safety for Managers course, or IOSH Managing Safety or NEBOSH

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