Basic concepts and duties:
This act is probably the most important piece of H&S legislation in recent decades and forms the basis of our H&S law. As well as setting out general duties on employers and others, it lays the foundations for subsequent legislation, regulations and enforcement regimes.
If you wanted to summarize it in one sentence, then it would be something like: you must do whatever is ‘reasonably practicable’ to ensure the health and safety of employees and others who might be affected by your work activities.
The Act imposes:
These duties are qualified by the principle of so far as is reasonably practicable, i.e. an employer does not have to take measures to avoid or reduce risk if they are technically impossible or if the time, trouble or cost of the measure would be grossly disproportionate to the risk.
The law requires you to do what good practice and common sense would lead you to do anyway, that is, look at the risks and take sensible measures to eliminate them or reduce them to acceptable levels.
The HSW Act does not spell out exactly HOW you should go about achieving the goals and objectives, it simply says you will. Subsequent legislation and regulations bolted on to this act do go into more detail on the HOW for some subjects and specific work activities.
Duties of employers to employees:
Employer’s duties in this regard are:
Additionally, you must have and display a written policy with regard to health and safety at work.
Duties of employers (and self-employed) to others:
Employers have duties to the general public, visitors to their premises and other persons who do work on their premises. This duty is:
The duty to the public and visitors is fairly obvious. The duty to contractors, for example, that come to your workplace to do work is sometimes overlooked. If you employ a company or contractors to do some work in your workplace, then they have a responsibility to avoid exposing you and your employees to danger from their activities. Equally, you have a responsibility to protect them from your activities and you must clearly advise and warn them of any dangers posed by your activities. If, for example, you hire a contract joiner to do some work in your workplace where chemicals are processed or handled, then you must advise of the potential dangers and provide any necessary protection from the chemical dangers.
Duties of employees:
Employees also have sensible duties placed on them. They must:
If an employee creates a trip hazard by carelessly positioning a cable supply to a portable tool close to the top of a general stairway and someone trips and falls downstairs, who is at fault, the employer or the employee? There would have to be some good reasons why the employee was not considered to be the one at fault. Questions could be raised, however, as to whether training was adequate, whether there was a practicable alternative route for the cable, etc.
Consultation with employees:
Employers are required to consult with employees on matters that affect their health, safety and welfare at work. This can be done in several ways:
Duties to provide safety equipment or PPE:
If personal protective equipment (PPE) needs to be worn in order to protect employees, then this must be provided by the employer at no cost to the employee.
Duties of manufacturers:
The Act places clear duties on those who design, manufacture, import or supply articles for use at work. They are required to:
Remember, if you make some of your own tools or equipment for your own activities, then you will be considered to be the ‘manufacturer’. You must then comply with the above requirements.
Powers given to the enforcing authorities:
The Act gives a number of powers to inspectors appointed by an enforcing authority (i.e., the HSE and local authorities) in the exercise of their duties. These powers include the authority to:
The Act also gives powers for inspectors to issue improvement notices and prohibition notices.
What does ‘at work’ mean?
As with all statutory instruments and legal documents, it is important to have a clear definition of important words and terms. In the HSW Act, the following definitions apply:
Management of H&S regulations – what are they?
In 1999 a new set of regulations was introduced: The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (the Management Regulations).
These regulations added some more detail on the HOW to the 1974 Act. Like the HSW Act, they apply to all work activities. The main thrust of these regulations is to require employers to carry out risk assessments. Additionally, if you have five or more employees, then you must also record any significant risks identified in the assessment. You must also, of course, set out what you need to do to reduce risk and do it. In a generally non-hazardous workplace, such as a typical office, a risk assessment should be quite straightforward and short. In a dangerous chemical plant, it will be necessarily long and quite complex.
Some other requirements
Some of the other key requirements spelled out in these regulations are:
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