Health & safety compliance … what’s involved?

It is obvious if you do not understand health and safety law you are unlikely to comply. Unfortunately it is often complex and detailed. The main Act which forms the basis of health and safety law is the Health & Safety at Work Etc. Act 1974. In summary that Act sets out the general duties which employers have towards employees and others who are effected by their business, but also the duties the employees have to themselves and to each other. Additionally there are very many regulations detail more specific requirements. 

Many regulations are supported by Approved Codes of Practice. These set out practical examples of good practice and illustrate what is required in particular circumstances. Approved Codes of Practice, however, have a special legal status. If an employer is prosecuted for a breach of health and safety law, and it is proved that it has not followed any relevant provisions contained in an Approved Code of Practice, the Court will be obliged to find the company guilty unless it can show that it has complied with the law in some other but equally good way. This is very difficult in practice to demonstrate.

In addition the Health & Safety Executive produce guidance on specific subjects. Some of this guidance can be very specific and relate to a particular process, or can be a more general attempt to tackle health and safety problems within a particular industry. In essence this is technical advice. The following of such guidance is not generally compulsory but it would normally be the case that following guidance will be enough to demonstrate compliance with the law. 

Guidance can be important in a particular context. Arguably the most important context is the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007. Here the jury is permitted, when it considers whether an organisation has been in gross breach of its duty of care, to have regard to any health and safety guidance that is relevant. Non compliance with such guidance is likely to weigh heavily with the jury. 

In practical terms all these facets of health and safety law need to be considered by any organisation. Any specific guidance which is relevant to a particular industry should always be sought out and considered. The HSE website is a very good source for this information.

Posted on: 20/07/2011

This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.

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