What is the Health and Safety at Work Act?

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASAWA) lays down wide-ranging duties on employers. Employers must protect the 'health, safety and welfare' at work of all their employees, as well as others on their premises, including temps, casual workers, the self-employed, clients, visitors and the general public. However, these duties are qualified with the words 'so far as is reasonably practicable'. This means that employers can argue that the costs of a particular safety measure are not justified by the reduction in risk that the measure would produce. But it does not mean they can avoid their responsibilities simply by claiming that they cannot afford improvements.

HASAWA allows the government to issue regulations, guidance and Approved Codes of Practice (ACOPs) for employers. These set out detailed responsibilities for your employer in every aspect of workplace health and safety, from working safely with computers, to stress and hazardous chemicals.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was set up under HASAWA.

The Act contains powers for the HSE to enforce these employer duties and penalties for non-compliance.

Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union, a source on our free help page or an independent financial advisor before taking any action.