Health and safety legislation can be confusing. There is a sizeable legislative body concerning various aspects of this area; every business will be affected by at least one of them and potentially several. It is important to understand which affect your business. From the alternate point of view, if you believe that you have a claim against an employer, it is important to know which pieces of legislation the employer in question may have disobeyed.
Legislation in the UK is divided into two types: ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’. Primary legislation consists of Acts of Parliament, with the most important of these being the Health and Safety at Work etc Act (1974). This is looked at briefly in this article, and in more detail in another article in this section. Secondary legislation, meanwhile, consists of Statutory Instruments, which are otherwise known as ‘regulations’. The full text of legislation is available on governmental websites, but the key points are detailed below.
The Health and Safety at Work etc Act (1974), commonly referred to as the HSWA, is the key piece of British health and safety legislation. Aside from conferring wide-ranging responsibilities on employers, employees, those who manufacture industrial products, self-employed individuals, and those who occupy workplaces, it also established the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Health and Safety Commission (HSC). The HSE is a non-departmental body which has the responsibility to regulate health and safety risks in the UK. It reports directly to the HSC.
Following the HSWA, perhaps the next most important piece of health and safety legislation is the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (MHSWR) 1992. This piece of secondary legislation established a number of new responsibilities for employers and employees, and introduced a number of new elements of British health and safety law. These included risk assessment and the concept of ‘competent persons’. The key responsibilities added to those already taken on by employers include the duty to undertake risk assessments for employees and non-employees; provide ‘health surveillance’ targeted at those risks specified in the assessment; provide employees with sufficient information regarding the risks identified in the assessment and the measures that should be taken to eliminate or mitigate those risks; provide employees with health and safety training on recruitment and after any significant change in their job, or responsibilities, or the technology that they use in the discharging of those responsibilities; and to ensure that training is adapted when new risks are identified, and is repeated regularly where this is necessary or appropriate. It should be noted that, where the HSWA says that measures should be taken ‘so far as is reasonably practical’, the responsibilities conferred by the MHSWR are absolute and legally unavoidable.
The MHSWR were amended in 1994 to incorporate the European Directive on Pregnant Workers. The Amendment confers on employers the duty to give specifically assess any risks that may apply specifically to women who are pregnant, recently post-natal, or breast-feeding. It also requires employers to carry out sufficient preventive action, as far as is possible, to ensure that these workers are not exposed to those risks. If this is not possible, the employer must prevent the exposure of the worker in question by offering alternative working hours or conditions, offering work of a different nature, or offering paid leave for a sufficient period.The full text of the HSWA and MHSWR are available on governmental websites.