Beginner’s Guide to the Health and Safety at Work Act

In the modern workplace, nothing is more important than a strong health and safety policy. Whether your employees work on a construction site, office environment or somewhere else entirely, you have a legal obligation to keep them safe and reduce the risk of accident. Since work-related injuries and ill-health accounted for over 30 million lost working days in 2018, health and safety should certainly be considered a top priority for all businesses.

However, staying on top of health and safety requirements can seem completely overwhelming at times. Due to the sheer amount of legislation involved, managing health and safety often appears far more complicated than it needs to be, leaving many employers uncertain if they’re breaking any rules or at risk of paying out large amounts of compensation.

Fortunately, the main piece of legislation you need to know about is the Health and Safety at Work Act, 1974, since this clearly outlines the obligations and expectations of the modern workplace. By developing a basic understanding of these regulations and then providing employees with a health and safety eLearning course, you can ensure everyone is fully aware of their own responsibilities—and that no laws are being broken.

What is the Health and Safety at Work Act?

Introduced in 1974, the Health and Safety at Work Act is the primary piece of legislation relating to the management of work-related health and safety. These regulations cover every imaginable aspect of workplace safety, clearly defining the obligations and duties of everyone involved with the business, and asserting that all employers have a duty of care to their staff members.

This legislation is enforced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and local authorities, who will hand out harsh penalties to any employers found to be in breach of the regulations. In short, the general principle of the Act is to make sure businesses are doing everything “reasonably practical” to protect their employees, and that any dangers are quickly identified and dealt with.

What about other health and safety legislation?

There’s plenty of other health and safety legislation that might be applicable to your business. For example, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999), Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (2013) and Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations (1977) all cover varying aspects of health and safety. However, the Health and Safety at Work Act should be your primary concern if you’re just hoping to get the basics covered.

Employer’s Health and Safety Responsibilities

From an employer’s point of view, you obviously need to be aware of these regulations to fully understand your health and safety responsibilities. A failure to recognise and fulfil these obligations can ultimately lead to hefty fines, prosecution and, in more extreme cases, a lengthy prison sentence. Although you’re unlikely to read through the Health and Safety at Work Act in its entirety, you certainly need to develop at least a basic understanding of its main points.

First and foremost, the Act highlights the importance of carrying out regular risk assessments to identify potential hazards in the workplace. Once you’ve identified these dangers, it’s then your responsibility to provide practical and sensible measures to control them, while businesses with over five employees will need to provide a written record of their findings—alongside a formal health and safety policy.

Employers are expected to ensure the safe operation and maintenance of all workplace equipment, while also ensuring the safe usage of any hazardous substances. Under the Act, all employers must provide a secure working environment which is always properly maintained, with safe entrances, exits and adequate welfare facilities for all staff members. In addition, these employees must be provided with thorough health and safety training in order to fully understand your policies.

The Importance of Health and Safety Training

By providing adequate health and safety training, you can make absolutely sure that all employees are completely aware of their own health and safety responsibilities. More importantly, this will ensure you’re staying in line with modern health and safety legislation, helping to cultivate a much safer working culture and environment.

Thorough health and safety training will teach employees how to identify and deal with any potential workplace hazards, while also helping them understand the specific policies your business has put in place. Without the necessary training, it just isn’t possible to ensure staff members are operating safely, while a failure to raise awareness of health and safety will significantly increase the odds of a work-related accident or injury.

Once employees have learnt how to recognise these dangers, however, you won’t just improve your absence rates and improve profitability, you’ll also be making absolutely certain you’re carrying out your legal obligations. Although every business will inevitably have different safety requirements, health and safety training is essential for anyone wanting to stay in line with the Health and Safety at Work Act.