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Health and safety law, what you need to know

Written by Phoenix Health & Safety
25th May 2019
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What every employer needs to know about health and safety law

One of the best known legal maxims is that ignorance of the law is no defence. When it comes to health and safety, "I didn't know we couldn't do that" simply won't cut it in court. And not knowing the law makes you much more likely to end up there.

More importantly, ignorance of the law puts people in danger. That's why it's essential to know your legal duties, responsibilities and obligations.    

The Act and the Regulations 

The primary legislation covering occupational health and safety in Britain is the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. They make it clear that employers are responsible for the management of health and safety and set out their general duties towards employees and members of the public.   

Don't guess, assess Employers are expected to conduct a risk assessment, keep it up to date and create a health and safety policy based upon it. If there are more than five employees, this must all be recorded in writing.   

The basics of risk assessment are identifying every potential hazard, determining who might be harmed and how, then assessing how likely such harm is and how serious it could be.   

What is a hazard? Hazards can be physical dangers caused by machinery and processes. They can also be ergonomic threats such as having to stand or sit in a harmful posture, perform repetitive movements or work in poor lighting. And they can be psychological factors such as stress, excessive workload, bullying or unclear job roles.  

"Reasonably practicable" 

Based on the assessment required by law, employers are expected to introduce measures to control the risk “in so far as is reasonably practical”. Those seven crucial words appear in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and in many other regulations - recognising that it is not possible or necessary to remove all risk.   

Does that mean you can just dismiss measures you don't want to implement by saying they are too expensive or difficult? Not at all. In most cases the law provides guidance or an Approved Code of Practice - making it clear what is considered "reasonably practicable".   

Specialised laws and regulations 

The 1974 Act and 1999 Regulations cover the law as generally applicable to all employers. But there are also sets of regulations specific to particular hazards, processes and groups of workers, providing practical advice on how to comply with the law. For example there are regulations covering:

  • The use of computers
  • Working with chemicals
  • Work equipment
  • Lifting operations
  • Manual handling
  • Radiation
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • The working environment.

 By now you'll have understood that, when it comes to health and safety, there's a lot of law to know. And you may have noticed that lawyers have a habit of making things as complex as possible. All the more reason to talk to Phoenix for expert, easy to follow advice on where you stand. We can also help you choose the right courses to ensure that you and your team stay safe, healthy and on the right side of the law.