The Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974

This Act was the most important development in industrial safety legislation for many years. It introduced a new approach to health and safety with emphasis on self-regulation and employee participation.

The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 applies to all workplaces, whatever the type of business. Employers, the self-employed and everyone at work or anyone who is affected by work activities, are affected by the Act.

Prior to the 1974 Act, the approach to industrial safety had been based on legislation that had grown in a piecemeal fashion over the last 100 years. Acts of Parliament were passed and extended to deal with particular hazards and work activities as they arose. Despite the vast amount of legislation, millions of workers were not covered by law in the course of their employment and there was no statutory provision for the protection of the public.

The Act requires employers to ensure ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’ the health, safety and welfare of their employees and other persons who may be affected by their work. This includes sub-contractors and the general public.

The term ‘reasonably practicable’ has been interpreted in law to mean that an employer is entitled to take into account the cost of any measure he may be considering, against the consequences of the risk involved.

The Act also covers the duties of employees at work. They must take reasonable care for the safety of themselves and of other persons who may be affected by their acts or omissions. They should co-operate with their employers and others in carrying out their statutory obligations.