What is the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974?

  • Health & Safety
men in PPE inside a warehouse
Peninsula Logo

Peninsula Team, Peninsula Team

(Last updated )

In this guide, we'll discuss the Health and Safety at Work Act, your obligations, and how Peninsula can help your business.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 outlines employer duties regarding Health & Safety in the Workplace. Previously, there was no legal framework to uphold employee safety at work, which is why this piece of UK legislation was introduced.

For example, employers were not required to perform risk assessments - which helps to identify hazards and risk of harm within a workplace. Therefore, employers had no legal obligation to make their businesses safe.

In this guide, we'll discuss the Health and Safety at Work Act, your obligations, and how Peninsula can help your business.

Who does the Health and Safety at Work Act apply to?

The Health and Safety at Work Act applies to anyone you have on your worksite at any given time. This includes:

It also applies to the following:

  • Owners of a non-domestic premises, for example, a shop.
  • An office, you’re responsible for both the office and any communal areas.
  • Manufacturers and suppliers, especially if they create substances that could cause accidents if not stored and handled correctly.

The Act also covers self-employed workers, who are responsible for their own safety wherever they're working.

Does the Health and Safety at Work Act cover animals in the workplace?

No, the Act only protects humans. So if any pets are brought into an office environment, they aren't protected by the legislation.

However, if you let pets into your company, their owners are required to prevent them from posing a safety risk. If an employee requests to bring an animal such as a service dog into work, you should consider how you can do this without increasing risk to others.

What are the main objectives of the Health and Safety at Work Act?

The Health and Safety at Work Act has two main objectives; employer responsibilities and employee responsibilities.

Let's discuss them in more detail so you’re aware of your obligations:

Employer responsibilities

The main responsibility for employers under the Act is to protect both the health and wellbeing of all employees, visitors and contractors, as well as nearby members of the public.

The full Act is split into 85 different sections that outline your specific duties. For example, you must:

  • Conduct a safe operation of the workplace environment, such as properly maintaining equipment and systems. As well as ensuring there are safe access and exit points throughout the workplace.
  • Ensure the safe use and storage of dangerous substances & chemicals.
  • Provide the appropriate Health & Safety training for all staff so procedures are followed correctly.
  • Provide adequate and appropriate welfare provisions for staff, such as employee assistance programmes.
  • Maintain a written Health & Safety policy.
  • Perform a risk assessment to lower the risk of harm occurring to staff.
  • Provide working environments with sufficient washing facilities, drinking water, lighting, and ventilation.

Employee responsibilities

The act also states: "Workers have a duty to take care of their own Health & Safety & that of others who may be affected by their acts or omissions at work".

Moreover, they must:

  • Ensure they follow guidelines set out in safety training, especially when using dangerous equipment or substances.
  • Take responsibility for their own safety, and the safety of those around them.
  • Cooperate with their employers on all matters related to Health & Safety, whilst doing nothing to disrupt safety procedures.
  • Inform their employer of any unidentified hazards or risks as soon as possible, to not jeopardise workplace Health & Safety.

Enforcement of Health & Safety legislation

Employers must also ensure the rights and obligations of inspectors during an inspection are met. This includes their right to:

  • Inspect equipment.
  • Ask questions about the business's Health & Safety.
  • Investigate a workplace.
  • Investigate premises with an appointment.

Ensure you follow the guidance given to you following an inspection to make your workplace safer. This could be something small like installing safety signage, or something that may require larger resources - like a new ventilation system.

Who enforces the Health and Safety at Work Act?

The Health and Safety at Work Act is enforced and regulated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) - the main regulator for workplace Health & Safety in the UK.

HSE have the power and authority as a regulator to turn up at a workplace unannounced and conduct an inspection. They can also investigate your workplace if an employee has been injured at work. Or if they have a reason to believe Health & Safety law is being broken on that site.

What happens if you breach the Health and Safety at Work Act?

If you breach the Health and Safety at Work Act, it could have severe consequences for your business. In the UK, Health & Safety law is enforced through inspector notices - but criminal prosecution is possible for more serious cases.

The penalty given for non-compliance with Health & Safety legislation will be determined in a court setting. Depending on the consequences of the breach, you could face a maximum of 12 months imprisonment or a £20,000 fine.

Staff can also be prosecuted if they've acted dangerously, despite the best efforts of their employer. For example, if you've provided adequate training or personal protective equipment (PPE) but they still fail to maintain Health & Safety at work, protect themselves or others.

What happens if there's an accident at work?

If there's an accident within your workplace, it must be recorded in an accident book. This must be done for every incident - regardless of its severity - but more serious ones should be reported to the HSE. This is highlighted by RIDDOR; the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases & Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013.

However, if an employee is injured because of an accident at work and they believe it to be the fault of their employer, they may claim compensation. Their claim must be made within three years of the accident taking place.

Are there other Health & Safety regulations in the UK?

Yes, along with the Health and Safety at Work Act being the primary piece of occupational health regulation - there are also other existing legislation you need to be aware of. These include:

  • Management of Health at Safety at Work Regulations 1999: These regulations cover carrying out risk assessments in the workplace to reduce risk. Aside from risk assessments, a specific person should oversee Health & Safety in your company & create relevant policies.
  • The Personal Protection Equipment at Work Regulations 1992: These regulations are in place to ensure personal protective equipment (PPE) is provided when required, along with adequate training and instruction.
  • Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992: These regulations are in place to hopefully remove the need for staff members to undertake manual handling which could lead to injury.
  • The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992: These are in place to ensure the safe use of display screen equipment, for example, desk computers.
  • Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH): These regulations are in place to ensure exposure to hazardous chemicals or substances is controlled.
  • The Provision & Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998: These regulations were created to ensure that any work equipment is both safe and suitable for the role.

How can Peninsula help with your business’s Health & Safety?

Peninsula offers a wide range of fantastic services to help you with your Health & Safety and ensure compliance. Our qualified experts will provide you with unlimited advice on any issue you have, keeping you safe and stress-free.

Alongside this, we also provide full risk assessment services. One of our qualified experts will come to your site & carry out a risk assessment, meaning any risks you have are successfully controlled.

Our support doesn't end there, as part of the service you'll also have access to our Health & Safety software. Meaning, you can save time and use our ready-made templates to create the best policies for your business.

Get expert advice on the Health and Safety at Work Act from Peninsula

When running a business, you must follow Health & Safety legislation. The main piece in the UK is the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, which outlines the duties of employers when it comes to the safety of their staff.

Failure to do so might put your employees, customers, and anyone else you have on-site at risk of serious injury. This could lead to heavy fines, and even prison sentences.

Peninsula offers expert advice on Health & Safety matters in schools. Our teams provide 24/7 Health & Safety advice which is available 365 days a year. We take care of everything when you work with our Health & Safety experts.

Want free Health & Safety advice? Contact us on 0800 028 2420 & book a consultation with a Health & Safety consultant today.



Got a question? Check whether we’ve already answered it for you…

Related articles

  • person writing on note pad


    Health & Safety Audit

    In this guide, we'll discuss what a Health & Safety audit is, the benefits of conducting one, and the process to follow.

    Peninsula TeamPeninsula Team
    • Health & Safety
  • a woman on her phone holding her head on a couch


    Endometriosis at Work

    In this guide, we'll discuss the effects of endometriosis on your employees, how Peninsula can help you support them, and the legislation you must follow.

    Peninsula TeamPeninsula Team
    • Occupational Health
  • a woman in PPE working


    Health & Safety Software

    In this guide, we'll discuss Health & Safety software, its benefits, and how Peninsula can help with your workplace safety management.

    Peninsula Team Peninsula Team
    • Health & Safety
Back to resource hub

Try Brainbox for free today

When AI meets 40 years of Peninsula expertise... you get instant, expert answers to your HR and health & safety questions

Sign up to our newsletter

Get the latest news & tips that matter most to your business in our monthly newsletter.