In a workplace setting, especially one that is filled with volatile substances, large machinery where individuals are to do heavy manual work, or even just spend large amounts of time, they must be made aware of their rights in case something goes wrong. An empowered employee who knows the employer’s duties and responsibilities, apart from ensuring his own safety will ensure compliance with these duties and ensure the safety of his co-workers as well. 

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSW, HSWA, HASAW 1974, or HASAWA) is the primary legislation governing workplace health and safety in the UK. The extensive document of 85 sections sets the framework of general duties for employers (Section 2), employees (Section 7,8), contractors, designers, suppliers, importers and manufacturers of articles and substances used at work, and managers of the premises to maintain health and safety within most workplaces.

This Act of Parliament is complemented by other statutory instruments (such as the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, Reporting of Injuries, Diseases, and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR), and Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 (amended 2002) (MHOR)) which serve to make small changes, updates or additions to it without having to create an entirely new Bill. 

HASAWA allows the government to issue regulations, guidance, and Approved Codes of Practice (ACOPs) to employers. These detailed responsibilities for employers range from working safely with display screens to hazardous chemicals. These provisions are qualified by the words “so far as is reasonably practicable.” This limit does not mean that employers can avoid responsibility for protecting their employees. They may theoretically argue that the cost of implementing a specific safety measure is disproportionate to the reduction of risk to employees. Therefore, whilst the failure to follow an approved code of best practice (ACOP) is not in itself illegal, an employer must be able to prove that their workplace has implemented equally effective methods to comply with the law.

HASAWA was pivotal as it was the first piece of workplace health and safety legislation that was required to be abided by all industries nationally. It was also the first of its kind which clearly outlined the responsibilities of employees and employers to ensure workplace health and safety.

It is also a highly adaptable and agile piece of legislation. The Act has been amended periodically to reflect the development in various industries and sectors. These legislative changes are known as statutory instruments and are meant to deal with developing health and safety concerns as they arise. Examples of such include the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at Work Regulations 1992, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH), and they have been detailed below. (Internally link to ‘other regulations within HASAWA’)

Ultimately, the Act aims to be preventative rather than curative such that employers and employees are aware and accountable for their workplaces.


Numerous provisions within health and safety legislation originated from EU directives but have been written into UK law. The UK currently has the power to change the legislation without governance from the EU, it is believed that minimal changes, if any, will be pushed for and implemented in the foreseeable future. Whilst many of the provisions within health and safety legislation in the UK have come from EU directives, they have been written into UK law. Any changes required to meet the dynamic nature of the workplace may be otherwise introduced through the HSE. (link internally to HSE subsection)


Statistics post-1974 show the positive impact of this legislation. Between 1974 and 2007, the number of fatal injuries to employees fell by 73 percent; the number of reported non-fatal injuries fell by 70 percent, and the rate of injuries per 100,000 employees fell by a whopping 76 percent.  HSE reported 651 fatal injuries sustained in the workplace in 1974 and 147 in 2018/19. Similarly, non-fatal injuries were just shy of 337,000 in 1974 compared to 69,208 in 2018/19.

It must be noted however that an anomaly exists in this data in cases of asbestos-related deaths because there exists a time lag between exposure to the harmful substance and its health implications. Recent cases are resultant exposure prior to the 1980s. Additionally, since 1990, there has been a notable increase in stress and associated conditions but this may be associated with better knowledge, greater diagnosing, and reporting.

Furthermore, Britain had the lowest rate of fatal injuries in the European Union in 2003, with the EU average being 2.5 fatalities per 100,000 workers and the UK average of the same being 1.1.

HSE (sections 10-14)

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is an independent body set up under HASAWA that is responsible for enforcing workplace health and safety legislation (with help from relevant local authorities). The HSE has powers to enforce employer duties and enforce penalties for non-compliance with their responsibilities. The executive also has the authority to conduct research in health and safety, pursue concerns regarding dangerous or hazardous working conditions and investigate significant industrial incidents. In serious cases, they have the power to indefinitely shut operations and even bring criminal charges against offenders.

Main Regulations of HASAWA 

HASAWA requires employers to provide adequate training such that their employees understand and adhere to health and safety procedures. They must provide adequate welfare provisions for staff at work, a safe working environment, and supervision of safety procedures during work. Workplaces employing five or more individuals must have a written record of their health and safety policy.

However, the approach taken by the employer to ensure health and safety at the workplace should be proportionate to the nature and size of the business, as well as the risk level of the activity. Most small businesses with a low-risk environment may manage their health and safety in a relatively straightforward manner.

The Act consists of four key sections (known as Parts) which are subsequently broken down into detailed sections. The roles and responsibilities of employers and employees can be found in Part I – Health, Safety and Welfare in Connection with Work, and Control of Dangerous Substances and Certain Emissions into the Atmosphere. 

Duties of an employer (Section 2-6 of the Act)

All of the employer’s duties are qualified with the words ‘so far as is reasonably practicable. This means that employers may be able to protect themselves in cases using the argument that the monetary costs of a particular safety measure are not justified by the level of reduction in risk that the measure would produce. This, however, may not be construed as a loophole for employers to avoid their responsibilities. Practically, employee safety rests on the employer. They are also responsible for others on their premises, including temps, casual workers, the self-employed, clients, visitors, and the general public.

More specifically, providing a safe workplace includes provisions for a safe system of work, a safe place of work, safe equipment, plant and machinery, and safe and competent people working as employers are also liable for the actions of their staff and managers. Employers must also carry out risk assessments as set out in regulations, and take steps to eliminate or control these risks. They must inform workers of all potential hazards associated with any work process, or chemical substance and ensure they are supervised while carrying out said process/ activity. They are required to appoint a competent person responsible for health and safety by overseeing day-to-day safety management and safety inspections. They must additionally provide adequate facilities for staff welfare at work.

Workplaces employing five or more people must keep a written and up-to-date record of their health and safety policy that they developed through consultation with their employees or their representatives.

HASAWA expects employers to develop a written general policy regarding health and safety in the workplace and to update the policy in accordance with any changes in legislation. They must provide information and instruct their employees regarding all duties in relation to their health and safety in the workplace. They are to also ensure the workplace is effectively maintained and that access and egress into the work area are safe and without risk.

Responsibilities of employees (Sections 7-9 of the Act)

There are some duties for employees at a workplace such as the common-law duty of care to exercise reasonable care and skill while dealing with their colleagues and their employer.  Employees are to take steps to adequately protect their health and safety and reasonably consider that of their colleagues. They are not to disrupt or interfere with anything meant to aid health and safety at work. They can be subject to fines and convictions if they are found in breach of the regulations of HASAWA.

They must keep up with the dynamism of the workplace and familiarise themselves with their responsibilities. They are expected to cooperate with the employer such that all the requirements to ensure health and safety are understood and followed clearly. They must also refrain from intentionally neglecting or undermining health and safety protocols that the employer has established.

Other regulations under HASAWA (internal link from para prior to Post -Brexit)

As mentioned above, various statutory instruments have been included in the overarching Health and Safety at Work Act to ensure safety at work, given technological advancements. Some of these regulations are detailed below.

Personal Protective Equipment Regulations (PPE) 2018

The PPE Regulations attempt to protect employees who work in dangerous environments that present additional risks. Employers must provide PPE gear when potential harm cannot be reduced through other methods. PPE is essentially the last line of defense against any hazards.

Employers are to carry out risk assessments and then provide for PPE based on the risks that are present and cannot be mitigated. Examples of PPE equipment include hard hats, high-visibility jackets, and protective eyewear. This PPE must also be properly stored and maintained in operational conditions. Replacement parts must be procured and replaced when required. Employees must also be properly trained on how to use and wear the PPE provided such that they may be effectively protected against the hazards present.

Display Screen Equipment Regulations (DSE) 1992 (amended 2002)

This regulation protects those who use DSE at work for more than one hour at a time. Employers should attempt to reduce the health risks that are associated with DSE equipment such as ergonomic issues and RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury). To comply with this regulation, employers may ensure workers take regular breaks and make use of any equipment that can reduce risks, and train employees to use DSE equipment safely. They may also complete an adequate DSE workstation assessment. It is important to add that these regulations remain intact and must be abided by even if employees are operating remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR Regulations) 1995

The RIDDOR regulations outlined the reporting of work-related injuries, accidents, incidents, and diseases to the HSE and recording such within the workplace. Employers are responsible for ensuring that all employees and persons have a good understanding of the RIDDOR regulations and that they are required to fill out a report if an applicable incident occurs in the workplace.

Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

This regulates employers to make risk assessments in the workplace. In addition, they involve nominating a specific person for the role of overseeing health and safety, giving workers relevant information and training, and providing a written health and safety policy.

The Workplace (Health, Safety, and Welfare) Regulations 1992

These regulations cover adequate lighting, heating, ventilation and workspaces, facilities, and safe passageways.

Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992

These include removing, when it is possible, the need for workers to manually handle anything which is associated with a risk of injury. Employers must make assessments of the risks, and provide weight information for heavy equipment and items. 

The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998

Requires employers to ensure the safety and suitability of work equipment, including its maintenance and relevant training regarding its usage to employees. 

Working Time Regulations 1998 (Amended)

This regulation governed working hours in the workplace by setting maximum working hours, rest periods, rest breaks, and shift work, including additional provisions for young workers.

Enforcement of the Legislation

In most cases, the Local Authority Environmental Health Officer will be the enforcement officer of this legislation. For manufacturing, large construction, and industrial sites, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) carries out inspections. Sections 15-17 of the act establish the codes of practice that the Health and Safety Executive must abide by in order to conduct investigations and inquiries.

Sections 18-26 detail guidelines for the enforcement of the legislation, including relevant bodies of authority and the powers given to health and safety inspectors. The inspector is empowered to enter the workplace at reasonable times (even without appointments). They have the right to investigate and examine the workplace and the machinery as well as the right to dismantle equipment and seize substances or equipment if there is any imminent danger. They can see documents and take copies, ask questions and gain assistance (from colleagues or the police).

Additionally, Sections 27-28 outline the procedures that the Health and Safety Executive and Enforcing Authorities must follow to request and obtain information, and Sections 33-42 concerns itself with offenses, specifically what exactly constitutes an offense, the collection of evidence, and the prosecution procedures.  


The above breakdown of HASAWA should have provided you with enough information to know your rights in the workplace and be aware of the employer’s duties and responsibilities to their employees. Thus, you shall hopefully be able to ensure compliance and in turn, high level of health and safety in the workplace.