What is the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974?

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 is a fundamental piece of legislation in the United Kingdom that governs occupational health and safety.

This Act provides the legal framework to promote, stimulate, and encourage high standards of health and safety in workplaces.

Its primary goal is to protect employees and the public from work-related risks.

Key Features of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974:

  1. General Duties of Employers to Employees:
    • Employers are required to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety, and welfare of all their employees at work. This includes the provision of safe systems of work, safe equipment, safe handling and storage of substances, adequate training, information, and supervision.
  2. General Duties of Employers and Self-Employed to Others:
    • Employers and self-employed individuals must ensure that their work activities do not put others at risk. This includes protecting the health and safety of the general public and people visiting the workplace.
  3. General Duties of Employees:
    • Employees are required to take care of their own health and safety and that of others who may be affected by their actions at work. They must also cooperate with their employers in fulfilling health and safety requirements.
  4. Health and Safety Policies:
    • The Act requires employers to have a written health and safety policy if they employ five or more people. This policy should outline the organisation’s approach to ensuring health and safety, including the responsibilities of staff at all levels.
  5. Establishment of Health and Safety Executive (HSE):
    • The Act led to the creation of the Health and Safety Executive, a regulatory body responsible for enforcing workplace health, safety, and welfare within the UK. The HSE provides guidance, conducts inspections, and can enforce legal action against non-compliance.
  6. Risk Assessments:
    • Employers are required to conduct risk assessments to identify hazards, assess risks, and implement appropriate measures to control these risks.
  7. Reporting of Injuries, Diseases, and Dangerous Occurrences:
    • The Act requires the reporting of certain workplace accidents, occupational diseases, and specified dangerous occurrences (near misses).
  8. Consultation with Employees:
    • Employers must consult their employees on health and safety matters, directly or through a safety representative and a safety committee.

Importance of the Act:

  • Legal Framework: It provides a comprehensive legal framework for health and safety regulation in the UK.
  • Prevention of Workplace Accidents and Ill Health: The Act has significantly contributed to the reduction of workplace accidents and occupational diseases.
  • Promotion of Safe Practices: It promotes awareness and implementation of safe working practices in all sectors.


  • Adherence to Regulations: All workplaces are required to comply with the Act and the regulations made under it.
  • Penalties for Non-Compliance: Failure to comply with the Act can result in legal action, including fines and imprisonment.

In summary, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 is a vital component of UK workplace legislation, focusing on the prevention of injuries and health problems associated with work.

Its comprehensive approach to health and safety ensures that both employers and employees have clear responsibilities and that workplaces are as safe as possible for everyone.

The Health and Safety Executive are the UK government body tasked with the enforcement, compliance and education around Health and Safety in the workplace.

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