17th August, 2022

The Legal Health And Safety Responsibilities Of Employers

Health and safety responsibilities for employers can seem overwhelming and come from many different places. In this blog post, we'll cover the essential duties that apply to every business - and the more specific responsibilities that only apply to certain hazards and situations.

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Employers have legal responsibilities under each health and safety regulation (and there are many!). It might feel overwhelming to know that the HSE enforces over 50 'substantive' health and safety regulations, placing health and safety duties on businesses.

As we try to simplify these requirements for you, remember that the core purpose of the health and safety regulations is to prevent harm.

When you run a business, you need to keep anyone who may be affected by your work safe. And that's why you have employer duties. Regulations detail the requirements, but even if they didn't, you would still have duties under common law (which we will cover shortly).

Employer duties apply to directors, business owners, and self-employed persons.

Any business with employees is an employer. And, some employer duties don't only apply to protecting your employees. They can also apply to others.

The people you need to keep safe include:

You can find health and safety responsibilities for employers detailed in several regulations. But before we dive into the regulations, let's look for a moment at common law responsibilities.

Common Law

Even if there were no health and safety laws on paper, passed through parliament and enforced by the HSE, employers still have duties. Under common law.

Common law is a type of law 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:

The problem with common law is unless you study law, you're unlikely to be an expert in the cases and decisions of the court. So it would be hard to keep up with your legal requirements.

That's why we have regulations. So you know, in advance, what the law says you need to do.

Acts and Regulations

You won't often find prosecutions under common law regarding health and safety these days. Not because the duties don't apply or are no longer needed, but because the common law duties are now formally acknowledged and enforced through acts and regulations. Written down and set in stone.

legal books and regulations on bookshelf

You'll find general duties and responsibilities in core health and safety legislation, like:

These are legal health and safety duties that apply to all businesses and all employers.

There are also more specific duties in regulations that only apply to certain hazards and situations, for example:

These regulations apply to businesses involved in construction work (CDM) and working with hazardous substances (COSHH).

Let's start with general duties since these apply to all employers.

General health and safety responsibilities of employers

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

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.

paperwork in folders

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:

(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 additional general duties for employers. This set of regulations applies to every workplace and every employer. The duties found here reinforce the general duties under the 1974 Act, and add some extra requirements.

Employer responsibilities in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations include to:

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

So far we have looked at the primary employer responsibilities. These are the general duties of employers. 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 (usually following a risk assessment).

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

Often, these high-risk hazards will apply to a specific task or activity, and might not apply to every business. So the responsibilities will come under their own regulations.

Depending on the type of work you do, you might be required to follow some other task or hazard-specific health and safety regulations. And these regulations create additional legal duties for employers.

person wearing hi-viz jacket

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, the CDM regulations will apply to you. 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), the COSHH regulations apply. 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 workstation assessments and providing eye tests.


Talk of over 100 health and safety regulations might feel overwhelming, but remember, they won't all apply to you. Fundamentally, employers are responsible for the health and safety of their employees. Start by risk assessing your work and putting 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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