Health and Safety at Work Act

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Key facts

  • The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act (HSWA) places general duties and responsibilities on all people at work, including employers, employees and the self-employed.
  • You are responsible for ensuring, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of all your employees at work plus anyone else who could be affected by your work activities, e.g. customers, casual workers, and contractors.
  • You are required to consult with employees, or their representative, on issues that may affect their safety.
  • Your employees also have a responsibility to take reasonable care of their own health and safety.
  • If you employ more than five people you must have a written health and safety policy.
  • You must carry out a risk assessment to identify and manage any risks.

Your responsibilities as an employer to employees and others

It is your duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of your employees and other people who might be affected by your business, including customers and contractors who enter the premises to undertake work for you such as cleaners and people undertaking maintenance work. You are required to do whatever is reasonably practicable to achieve this.

The Health and Safety at Work Act etc.1974 (HSWA) sets the framework for health and safety regulations in the workplace. The Act places general duties and responsibilities on all people at work, including employers, employees and the self-employed. There are two important responsibilities for an employer:

  • you are responsible for ensuring, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of all your employees at work (your employees also have a responsibility to take reasonable care of their own health and safety)
  • you have a wider responsibility to ensure, again so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety of other people who are affected by your business, for example, customers, casual workers and contractors.

All the health and safety legislation covered in this section relates to employers, employees, the self-employed and the workplace. 

Health and safety law seldom prescribes specific rules for you to follow. Rather, it requires you to undertake whatever measures are necessary to manage safety on your business premises. There are severe penalties for not doing so, which include the possibility of a jail sentence. It is mandatory that you devote time and careful attention to the management of safety in your business; this is at the heart of the law and you cannot fulfil your legal duties by form-filling or cursory treatment of the topic.

It is important to note that under the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 and the Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996, you have a duty to consult with your employees, or their representatives, on health and safety matters. You must consult on:

  • the introduction of any measure which may substantially affect their health and safety at work, e.g. the introduction of new equipment or new systems of work
  • arrangements for getting competent people to help them comply with health and safety laws (a competent person is someone who has the necessary knowledge, skills and experience to help an employer meet the requirements of health and safety law)
  • the information you must give your employees on the risks and dangers arising from their work, measures to reduce or get rid of these risks and what employees should do if they are exposed to a risk
  • the planning and organisation of health and safety training
  • the health and safety consequences of introducing new technology.

Further information on your requirements regarding consulting employees can be found on the HSE website.

Additional health and safety legislation

Other health and safety legislation supplements the HSWA's general responsibilities with specific requirements. The key regulations are covered in the following sections: 

Policy statement and risk assessment

At the heart of health and safety legislation is the requirement for you to undertake a health and safety assessment of your premises, identifying:

  • any significant health and safety risks
  • any group of employees identified as being especially at risk.

On the basis of this assessment, you must develop and implement a safety policy to manage any risks that you identify.

If you employ five or more people, your health and safety policy must be written down, including the arrangements for the management of safety in your business.

Even if you do not employ five people, it is still good practice to make a written record of your assessment and policy statement. If you do not, it may later be difficult to demonstrate that you have fulfilled your duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

For information about how to do a risk assessment see the Safety management section.

Health and safety notices

If you employ anyone, you are required by the Health and Safety Information for Employees Regulations 1989 to display the HSE-approved Health and Safety Law poster.

Alternatively, you can provide your employees with individual copies of the same information in a leaflet entitled Your Health, Your Safety - A Guide for Workers.

Mental health

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act, you also have a legal duty to assess risks related to work-related stress and to adopt practices aimed at safeguarding the mental health of your staff. There are six main areas where all employers need to assess the impact on the mental health of their employees, to ensure that they are fulfilling their duty of care:

Demands on employees

  • This means assessing each employee’s workload, target setting, work requirements and the workplace environment to make sure that they are not causing undue stress.


  • This means assessing how much control staff feel they have over the way they work and their work environment.


  • This means promoting a positive working environment that avoids conflict or harassment, either between employees or between employees and customers or contractors. It must be remembered that one person’s “jokes” or “banter” is another person’s harassment.


  • This means that if an employee does encounter a problem, the organisation will provide support either through procedures or at least by having an environment where they feel that they can voice their concerns and that these concerns will be treated seriously.


  • This means ensuring that employees have the confidence to know what their role is and the training to successfully fulfil it, as well as knowing the roles of the other employees so that conflict is avoided.


  • This means having management, communication and support plans in place when the business is going through change (e.g. redundancies, expansion or being sold) and that staff understand their individual situation and can plan accordingly.

To help managers undertake this assessment, the Health and Safety Executive have produced a publication called Tackling work-related stress using the Management Standards approach: A step-by-step workbook.


Local Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) are responsible for enforcing health and safety in hotels, guesthouses, bed and breakfasts, holiday homes and caravan sites.