Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974

Posted on: 09 January 2019

What is the purpose of this legislation?

The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act (“HSWA”) was brought into UK law to ensure workers’ health, safety and welfare within the UK by establishing the structure and authority required for regulation, enforcement and support. 

Since its enactment in 1974, the HSWA has generated an extensive system of specific provisions for various industries, disciplines and risks. These are backed up by the creation of the Health and Safety Commission and Health and Safety Executive (HSE) which were then merged in 2008.

In addition to being responsible for promoting the cause of better health and safety at work, the merged single national regulated body was granted extensive enforcement powers, allowing them to prosecute those that are found to have committed health and safety offences, with sentences including unlimited fines and imprisonment.

The HSWA is an enabling act. This means that other legislation, such as the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER), are introduced into UK law through it, and add specific requirements to its aims without having to change the Act itself.

The HSE prepares and lays before parliament Statutory Instruments (Regulations) which are, subject to formal consultation, passed into law. These are then supported by the provision of ‘Approved Codes of Practice’ (ACoP) which contain guidance based on current best practice and technical knowledge.

Who is responsible for compliance and what needs to be done?

The HSWA makes it the responsibility of everybody to not put themselves or others at risk of injury or illness, though the Act also identifies specific duty holders. Some of these duty holders and their respective duties and responsibilities are briefly outlined below:

In addition to the above, the HSWA (Section 7) imposes duties upon all employees while at work to:

  • take reasonable care for the health and safety of him/herself and of other persons who may be affected by his/her acts or omissions at work; and
  • co-operate with employers or other persons so far as is necessary to enable them to perform their duties or requirements under the Act.

Section 8 puts duties on all people so that:

"no person shall intentionally or recklessly interfere with or misuse anything provided in the interests of health, safety or welfare in pursuance of any of the relevant statutory provisions."

In other words, it is an offence for any person to deliberately disregard, tamper with or misuse measures, equipment, facilities, etc. that have been provided or put in place to keep themselves and other people safe.

While not covered in detail here, these other sections of the HSWA should be of interest in connection with the recommended reading referenced below:


Related risk topics:

The HSWA is relevant for the majority of risk topics that can be found under our trade sector pages and within the categories: