The Health and Safety Executive’s website regularly releases details of cases that it has recently successfully prosecuted. Recent examples include:
- Chester landlady prosecuted after ignoring gas safety warnings
- North-East hospital NHS Trust found guilty after exposing contractors to asbestos
- Injury to factory employee results in Bolton fabric firm being taken to court
- Unregistered gas fitter prosecuted after working illegally
These cases demonstrate that if employers fall foul of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (“the 1974 Act”) then they may face serious consequences. In this post we’ll therefore take a brief look at the 1974 Act, concentrating on:
- What is the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974?
- What duties does the 1974 Act impose?
- How can employers avoid liability under the 1974 Act?
What is the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974?
The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 has a number of functions. The two most important (arguably) of these functions are the establishment and authorisation of the Health and Safety Executive and the imposition of a number of duties on employers to maintain a reasonably safe working environment. The primary purpose of the 1974 Act is to secure the health, safety and welfare of employees (and other workers) at work and to protect the public from the activities of a company’s business. The Health and Safety Executive’s essential purpose is to promote the cause of improved health and safety in the workplace.
What duties does the 1974 Act impose?
The 1974 Act contains two main duties in sections 2 and 3.
Section 2 of the 1974 Act
S.2(1) sets out the general duty that an employer owes to an employee – to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, their health, safety and welfare at work.
S.2(2) sets out specific duties that the employer has – including the duty to provide and maintain safe a safe plant and safe systems of work, and to provide suitably information, instruction, training and supervision (among others).
Section 3 of the 1974 Act
S.3 of the 1974 Act extends the duty owed to employees in s.2(1) to cover non-employees. S.2(3) extends this responsibility to cover the workplaces of the self-employed.
How can employers avoid liability under the 1974 Act?
Employers need only demonstrate that they have taken all reasonably practicable steps to maintain a safe workplace. If employers undertake regular and thorough risk assessments to determine any possible dangers then they will normally identify any threats and act to negate them. Most employers who are found guilty of a breach of the 1974 Act have been prosecuted because they were generally negligent in their approach to health and safety in the workplace. Reasonable diligence in the workplace can therefore result in the avoidance of criminal liability and a potentially crippling fine (and an order to pay the prosecution’s costs).
Before acting on any of the above information it’s recommended that you obtain employment law advice from specialist solicitors.