22nd July, 2020

Key Duties Of The Health And Safety At Work Act For Your Business

The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act is an enabling act. It sets out the general health and safety duties that all businesses have to comply with in the UK. It enables further, more specific, health and safety regulations to be passed by law and enforced under it.

Key Duties Of The Health And Safety At Work Act For Your Business header image

The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 might sound olden day, but it's still very much relevant today. Written over 45 years ago, this piece of legislation applies to every business and covers all workers in the UK. Not only that, but it enables every other health and safety regulation to be introduced and enforced. It's a big deal.

Not only does the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (that's quite a mouthful, let's call it the HASWA going forward) cover employees, but also contractors, visitors, members of the public and anyone else who may be affected by the activities of your business.

Now before we go into the key duties, it's important to remember that the HASWA applies to all workers and contains general duties. Because it needs to apply to various businesses with different activities, hazards and risk levels, it is, in its nature very general. It doesn't tell you how to handle specific risks. Other regulation introduced under the HASWA might do that, for example, the Control of Asbestos Regulations, or the Working at Height Regulations.

The HASWA tells you what your responsibilities are, but not necessarily how to achieve them. It leaves you free to decide how to apply the duties and meet the requirements, within reason. This is because what needs to be done in one business will be very different from another. An office-based business is going to have far different health and safety needs to a construction company or an industrial facility, for example.


So what are these health and safety duties you must comply with at work? With 85 sections and 10 schedules, the HASWA is a fairly bulky item of law, and we're not going to cover it all here*. Let's look at some of the key duties the HASWA puts in place.

*If you do want to read the full act, here's the link -> Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974

Duties of employers to employees

Under section 2 of the act is the duty for employers to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all employees.

It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.

In particular with:

Duties of employers to others

Employers also have duties to others, not just employees. This duty is detailed in section 3 and requires employers to protect anyone who may be affected by their business activities.

It shall be the duty of every employer 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 thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety.

Duties of landlords and building owners

You don't have to be an employer to have duties under the HASWA. Section 4 places a duty on building owners to ensure safe access and egress for those using their premises as a place of work. This duty applies to anyone who has control of work premises or premises used as a place of work.

Duties of manufacturers and suppliers

Manufacturers have duties with regards to the supply of articles and substances for use at work under section 6.

Duties of employees

Section 7 places duties on employees at work. This includes taking reasonable care of themselves, and others, and complying with the rules put in place by their employer.

It shall be the duty of every employee while at work—

  1. to take reasonable care for the health and safety of himself and of other persons who may be affected by his acts or omissions at work; and
  2. as regards any duty or requirement imposed on his employer or any other person by or under any of the relevant statutory provisions, to co-operate with him so far as is necessary to enable that duty or requirement to be performed or complied with.

Duties not to misuse

Section 8. No person should misuse or interfere with anything provided for health and safety or welfare.

Duty not to charge

In section 9, the HASWA sets out how employees cannot be charged for health and safety requirements, like PPE.

No employer shall levy or permit to be levied on any employee of his any charge in respect of anything done or provided in pursuance of any specific requirement of the relevant statutory provisions.

Personal liability

Another important duty, or liability, under the act, is that of personal liability, particularly for directors. In section 37, the act sets out how where a health and safety offence is committed by a business, which can be attributed to a director or senior officer of the business, they can be personally liable to prosecution.

Want more information on how to comply with health and safety laws? Find out more about the legal health and safety responsibilities of employers.

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This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.

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