The 6 essential points of the Health and Safety at Work Act
Workplaces in the UK have been protected by the Health and Safety at Work Act for over four decades. It’s a vital piece of legislation that’s applicable to all workplaces, whatever their size. In this blog, we break down the key points of the Act and explore its relevancy for the present day.
What is the Health and Safety at Work Act?
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASAWA) is an important piece of legislation for workplaces in the UK. It ensures that all employers provide a safe working environment and look out for the health of their employees—wherever their place of work.
It relates to the wellbeing of not only permanent staff but also casual, self-employed and temporary workers, as well as visiting members of the public.
What are the key points of the Heath and Safety at Work Act?
While it’s a fairly hefty piece of legislation, the key points can be distilled down into the following six points:
1. Provide a safe place of work
This covers the physical workplace to ensure that premises are up to standard. It includes considerations like fire safety, cleanliness, waste management and the handling of harmful substances. Workplaces such as construction sites or medical labs will have more factors to consider than an office building.
2. Provide safe equipment
Any equipment that’s used at work, including computers and electronic devices, needs to be maintained to ensure it’s safe to use. This would usually involve periodic safety checks by an appointed person and a set process to report any faults so they can be repaired
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3. Ensure staff are properly trained
In order to foster a safe workplace, it’s important to surround yourself with responsible and competent staff. This includes both onsite training (to ensure all staff have been trained to use equipment properly) and general health and safety training, such as manual handling and fire safety.
4. Carry out risk assessments
Thorough risk assessments are an important part of HASAWA so employers can put in place appropriate preventative actions for each risk identified. One caveat to the legislation is that it requires employers to protect ‘as far as is reasonably practical’ the health and safety of their employees. The key thing here is risk. If something is identified as a very low risk factor, and would incur significant cost to mitigate, it might not need to be actioned.
5. Provide proper facilities
This covers the basics like toilets, clean drinking water, heating and air conditioning. If you provide kitchen facilities, any appliances will need to be checked and maintained accordingly. Employees also have their part to play in keeping these areas clean and tidy and in taking responsibility for their own health and safety.
6. Appoint a competent person to oversee health and safety
This would be a dedicated person who would be responsible for ensuring that all health and safety duties are being carried out and adhered to by employees. This might include routine safety inspections, managing day to day operations and working with safety reps throughout the business. If your organisation is attached to a union, you’ll also be required to liaise with an appointed representative.
Manage your health and safety at work compliance
Adhering to ISO 45001 is a good way to both manage essential occupational health and safety activities and evidence that your workplace is compliant with the Health and Safety at Work Act. Following the framework of the standard ensures that all aspects of health and safety at work are covered and also managed in an efficient way to provide assurance to employees, regulators and employers alike.
Is the health and safety at work act still relevant for 2023?
At the time it was introduced, workers were being exposed to dangerous working conditions in factories and mines. As there was no standardised law that covered different types of workplaces, the Health and Safety Act 1974 was brought into UK law to remedy this and prevent work-related accidents, deaths and illnesses.
HASAWA remains the foundation for protecting the wellbeing of the people coming into the workplace since its inception. However, in the era of remote and hybrid working, how does this apply? Employers still have a responsibility towards the health and safety of their employees who are working from home. They may need to consider the differing risk factors involved in remote working, such as off-site display screen equipment, maintaining communication and managing stress.
Will the Health and Safety at Work Act be subject to the sunset regulations in the UK?
In the wake of Brexit, The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill 2022 may come into force to ‘sunset’ EU regulations. This means that any health and safety regulations that are EU wide, rather than UK specific, might no longer apply after December 2023.
In this case, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 won’t be affected. In fact, it might end up being more relevant than ever as employers fall back on the fundamentals of it in place of having the previous EU legislation. Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) and Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 are two examples of EU health and safety regulations.
At the moment, it’s unclear whether or not this change will go ahead. Keeping up to date with health and safety legislation in the UK will be important for employers that have specific risk factors to consider, such as working at height.
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