Employers' Duties Under the Health and Safety Act
‘The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act’ 1974 (HSWA) is one of the most important pieces of legislation concerning occupational health and safety standards. It was passed by Parliament following the findings of the Robens Report, which asserted that employees must take on a key role in the development of safe working practices and the provision of secure occupational environments. One of the key results of the Report and the Act was the development of a ‘self-regulation’ system of occupational health and safety in the UK, particularly involving the appointment of trade union representatives responsible for liasing with employers to provide a safe working environment.
Basic RequirementsAs well as outlining employees’ responsibilities, the HSWA also gives details of duties that are assumed by employers with regard to occupational safety. As an overarching explanation, the Act states that the employer must ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees while they are at work. Section 2 outlines what this means in practice, listing the basic requirements that must be met. Particularly, these include the establishment and effective maintenance of safe work systems; the eradication (as far as is practicable) of health and safety risks connected with the handling of any substances; the effective dissemination of information required to ensure employees’ occupational health and safety, including training and supervision if it is required; the maintenance of a safe working environment, with particular reference to access and exits; and the provision of any facilities that are necessary for the welfare of the employees.
Also contained in section 2 are details of the employer’s responsibility to develop a comprehensive Statement of Health and Safety Policy. The employer must ensure that they provide exhaustive written details of their health and safety practices, and revise this as often as is necessary. There is, however, an exception to this; an organisation that comprises fewer than five employees is exempt from the requirement to provide a written Statement, although they must provide oral training as detailed above and in the previous sub-sections of Section 2 in the Act. Further details of these policy requirements can be found in an article elsewhere in this section of the site.
Training and ConsultationA further subsection of the Act gives an explanation of the employer’s responsibility to “provide such information, instruction, training and supervision as is necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of their employees”. Further details are provided in a document called the Approved Code of Practice which is available with the 1975 Employers’ Health and Safety Policy Statements Regulations. It is important to note that this requirement to provide necessary information is applicable also to those who are not employed by the company but who are contracted or sub-contracted.
Finally, the HSWA also requires employers to speak regularly with ‘safety representatives’ in order to investigate any health and safety concerns raised by employees. Furthermore, if two or more of these representatives request it, the employer must also establish a health and safety committee with the purpose of observing current health and safety practices within the organisation.
The HSWA also outlines the duties assumed by employees with regard to occupational health and safety. These are detailed in articles elsewhere on this site.