18th May, 2021

What Is An Approved Code Of Practice?

Most health and safety regulations come with an approved code of practice (ACoP) produced by the HSE. ACoP's give practical advice on how to comply with the law. And they have a special legal status. In this post, we look at HSE guidance, ACoP's and the law.

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Whether you are an employer or an employee, you need to know about health and safety regulations. Because both employers and employees have legal health and safety responsibilities in the workplace, and there are quite a few regulations you need to know about.

Wherever you work, there will be more than one set of regulations that apply to your workplace. For example, we wrote a list of 25 health and safety regulations that apply to construction. And the HSE has a list of nearly 100 health and safety regulations they are responsible for enforcing.

But the law doesn't just stop with the legislation. Most health and safety regulations also come with an approved code of practice (ACoP). And these documents have a special legal status.

What is an approved code of practice?

Approved codes of practice are detailed guidance documents approved by the HSE and published to accompany a set of health and safety regulations. They are documents that help you to comply with your legal requirements. Where regulations give legal definitions and statements, the ACoP puts these duties into more practical terms in plain English. If you have ever struggled to read a set of health and safety regulations, you may find its ACoP an easier way to digest the information.

Each ACOP is approved by the Health and Safety Executive, with the consent of the Secretary of State. It gives practical advice on how to comply with the law. If you follow the advice you will be doing enough to comply with the law in respect of those specific matters on which the Code gives advice.

The ACoP will often be much more in-depth than the regulations it's written for. For example, the COSHH regulations are 36 pages long. The accompanying ACoP is 100 pages. The ACoP is much longer because it contains a huge amount of extra information. In fact, often, approved codes of practice will be called "Approved code of practice and guidance". Because that's what they are, guidance.

This book contains the Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) to the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (as amended) (COSHH) and covers all substances to which the Regulations apply. It outlines the preferred or recommended methods that can be used to comply with the Regulations and the accompanying guidance also provides advice on achieving compliance...

We mentioned earlier that approved codes of practice have a special legal status. And it's true, they do. The ACoP will provide advice on specific parts of the regulations, and if you follow that advice, you will comply with the law. ACoP's have been reviewed and approved by the HSE for that purpose.

So the regulation is the law, and the approved code of practice is how to comply with the law. And that special legal status? It means that if you are found not to have followed the code, then you must prove that you have complied in some other way. Because the ACoP is the approved way of complying with the law.

legal paperwork

But unlike the regulations themselves, the ACoP is advice rather than the letter of the law. It gives guidance on how to comply with the law, but you can use alternative methods to comply. But only if you are sure that your alternative application will meet the legal requirements of the regulations. Because the recommended way to comply, and the approved way to comply, that's in the ACoP.

Don't forget the ACoP has HSE approval. They have done the work for you and provided detailed guidance to show how they would comply with the regulations. If you ever get prosecuted for a breach of health and safety regulations, the ACoP may be used to check for compliance. If you didn't follow the approved code of practice, you need to prove how your alternative method complies with the law.

Does every regulation have an approved code of practice?

Not every health and safety regulation has an approved code of practice. For example, the approved code of practice for the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (L21) was withdrawn by the HSE in 2013. Other online and paper guidance was published instead.

HSE guidance doesn't have the same special legal status as an ACoP, however, following the guidance is usually the same outcome. The guidance will help you comply with the law.

This guidance is issued by the Health and Safety Executive. Following the guidance is not compulsory, unless specifically stated, and you are free to take other action. But if you do follow the guidance you will normally be doing enough to comply with the law. Health and safety inspectors seek to secure compliance with the law and may refer to this guidance.


So most of the time, following the approved code of practice is the easiest, safest, and quickest way to comply with the regulations. If anyone knows the regulations the best, it's the HSE. They are responsible for enforcing them, after all. You could even look at the ACoP as free health and safety advice, helping you meet your legal requirements.

Employers in every workplace have legal duties to protect employees and anyone involved in their work from harm. 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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