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.
  • Your 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. guests, casual workers, contractors.
  • 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 guests 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 guests, their children and visitors, a casual worker or a contractor.
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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.

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 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.

Enforcement

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