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8th February, 2019

The Legal Health And Safety Responsibilities Of Employers

Employers have legal responsibilities under each health and safety regulation (and there are a few!). But it all boils down to the fundamental need to prevent harm to those who may be affected by your work. These employer duties apply to directors, business owners, and self-employed persons.

Any type of business with employees is an employer. And, some employer duties don't only apply to employees. They can also apply to others. Visitors. Temporary workers. Clients. Employees of other employers working in shared premises or site. Even members of the public.

Health and safety responsibilities for employers are set out in a number of regulations. There are general duties and responsibilities detailed in the main health and safety legislation. Then, there are more specific duties in regulations that only apply to certain hazards and situations.

Common Law

Before we dive into the regulations, let's look for a moment at common law responsibilities. Even if there were no health and safety laws on paper, employers still have duties. Under common law. This is a type of law that is passed down through the courts in case law and precedents, rather than being set out in written regulations.

Employers have health and safety responsibilities under common law. We all do. We owe each other 'reasonable care' and, if we fail to fulfil that requirement, we may be guilty of negligence.

Reasonable care responsibilities for employers include:

  • Preventing deaths
  • Preventing injuries
  • Preventing diseases and ill-health
  • Providing a safe place of work
  • Ensuring safe access and egress
  • Providing safe systems of work
  • Providing and maintain safe plant and equipment
  • Ensuring the health, safety and welfare of employees and others who may be affected by the work

Acts and Regulations

You won't often find prosecutions under common law regarding health and safety. Not because the duties don't apply, or aren't important. But because the common law duties are now formally acknowledged and enforced through acts and regulations. Written down and set in stone.

Legislation in the history books
Health and safety laws have been developed throughout history

Here is a summary of employer health and safety responsibilities. You will find many similarities with the common law duties above.

  • Ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees
  • Put in place safe systems of work
  • Provide a safe working environment
  • Use safe plant and equipment
  • Safe use of articles and substances
  • Provide employees and others with health and safety information, instruction, training and supervision
  • Produce a health and safety policy
  • Carry out risk assessments
  • Develop emergency procedures
  • Provide 'competent person' assistance where necessary
  • Comply with requirements of health and safety regulations

These are the general health and safety responsibilities of every employer. They apply to every business in the UK, of any size or type. These general responsibilities are laid out in two key pieces of health and safety legislation. The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations.

Health and Safety at Work etc. Act

First, the big one. The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act might have been implemented in 1974, but it is as relevant today as it was then. It's the act that enables other health and safety regulations to come into power. It's the driving force behind every health and safety book, policy, regulation and training course. This act puts in place the general health and safety responsibilities of employers which are:

  • To ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees. In particular:
    • Safe plant
    • Safe systems of work
    • Safe use, handling, storage and transport of articles and substances
    • Providing information, instruction, training and supervision
    • Maintain a safe place of work with safe access and egress
    • Safe working environment
    • Adequate welfare facilities
  • To produce a written health and safety policy with organisation and arrangements
  • Appointment and consultation with safety representatives where there are recognised trade unions

(1)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.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations contain further general duties for employers. This set of regulations apply to every workplace, and every employer. The duties found here reinforce the general duties under the 1974 Act, and add some extra requirements.

  • Carry out suitable and sufficient risk assessments
  • Put in place arrangements for effective planning, organisation, control, monitoring and review
  • Employ or contract competent persons to help them comply with health and safety duties
  • Develop suitable emergency procedures and apply them
  • Provide employees and others with relevant health and safety information
  • Provide none-employees with relevant health and safety information
  • Provide temporary workers with relevant health and safety information
  • Cooperate with other employers in shared workplaces over health and safety matters
  • Provide employees with adequate and relevant health and safety training

3.—(1) Every employer shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of (a)the risks to the health and safety of his employees to which they are exposed whilst they are at work; and (b)the risks to the health and safety of persons not in his employment arising out of or in connection with the conduct by him of his undertaking.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 Risk Assessment

Additional Legal Responsibilities

So far we have looked at the basic employer responsibilities. These are the general duties for employers. In that, they tell you what to do, but not necessarily how to do it. So long as you do what is reasonably practicable. So long as you apply reasonable care. Employers are free to decide how to control the hazards and risks in their business.

But this is not where your responsibilities as an employer end. There are some hazards and risks that are of a more serious nature and need specific action to be taken. Additional regulations are in force to require employers to take certain steps to control these hazards.

Depending on the type of work you do, you will often be required to follow other regulations. These create additional legal duties for employers. As an employer, it is important to know what regulations apply to your work and check for extra duties and responsibilities.

It might come as a shock that there are over 100 sets of regulations owned and enforced by the HSE. That's a lot of reading. Not all will apply to every employer, but a few are likely to apply to every business.

For example, if you work in construction, you need to know about the CDM regulations. This set of regulations places responsibilities on those working in the industry. It defines duty holders including clients, contractors and designers.

If you handle hazardous substances (nearly all businesses do), you need to apply the COSHH regulations. Employer responsibilities include assessing hazardous substances, preventing exposure, monitoring and health surveillance.

Work with computers? The display screen equipment (DSE) regulations apply. This set of regulations includes extra responsibilities like work station assessments and providing eye tests.


While talk of over 100 health and safety regulations might feel overwhelming, remember, they won't all apply to you. Fundamentally, employers are responsible for the health and safety of their employees. This starts with risk assessing your work and making sure you have the right policies and procedures in place.

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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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