The HSWA (Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974) has existed for more than 40 years and is the primary piece of legislation covering occupational health and safety in the UK. It is enforced by the HSE. Basically every employer and self-employed person has a duty of care to ensure that they are not putting people’s lives and the environment at risk. Employees also have a duty to report any risks they foresee or experience to their colleagues or their employers. Even visitors have a duty of care and should speak up if they see anything wrong.

Employers may install their own health and safety systems or may need outside help. Competent persons may be outsourced to help the employer meet the health and safety standards as outlined by the HSWA and other regulations pertinent to the business. The competent person should have the knowledge and experience to fulfil this task. One of the first things a start up business does or an established business has, is the production of a health and safety policy. This policy states who does what, when and how. However, if an employer has fewer than five employees they do not need to write down a health and safety policy, although it is always a good idea to write things down for ease of understanding and direction. Parts of such a policy could include what to do in an emergency, i.e evacuation plans, the periodic testing of equipment if appropriate, and, inductions for staff and contractors. It can be as simple or as elaborate as necessary.

A critical part of working according to the HSWA is the control of risks within the business. A risk assessment must be carried out and it must be investigated what could cause harm, to what extent it could cause harm and who to (including the environment). Once risks are identified they must be controlled by changing work processes, supplying protective equipment or asking the experts what to do. Although risks may not be totally eliminated within the workplace, measures must be taken so that risk is reduced to what is ‘practically possible’. Significant findings should be recorded on the risk register and reviewed as there are changes to the workplace environment.

Sometimes the employees themselves may be more aware of certain risks because of their work within the environment. Employees should always be consulted. They should also be trained in how to mitigate against risks (as it pertains to their job), and information and PPE available to them as required. Contractors and the self-employed must also be included. Vulnerable persons such as the young, migrant workers, expectant women and disabled persons must be helped in whatever way best brings about the best quality of life for them in the work environment. There must be first aid facilities on site, an accident record book (RIDDOR reporting system), health and safety display information (eg posters) clearly visible and employers liability insurance.


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