Wright Safety Solutionsestablished 2006

providing Health and Safety for Coventry and Warwickshire medium/small businesses

Safety and the Law

What is the law on safety at work?

There are several laws governing safety at work. First of all you can include the 'common law' Duty of Care. Both an employer and an employee have a duty of care to each other as well as to other employees. So it means that every employer must provide a safe workplace. If an employer is aware of a health and safety risk on his premises, and an employee is injured as a result of that risk, then the employer can be sued.

Equally, employees have a duty of care towards fellow employees. Employees must behave in a manner that does not put risk to their own or other employees safety.

The common law duties were given statutory force by their inclusion in the Health & Safety at Work Act (1974) (HaSAWA). What employers have to do is then detailed in related regulations on subjects like management, chemicals, equipment, noise etc. These regulations apply to self-employed people too.

The Health & Safety at Work Act also spells out the responsibilities on every employee who has a duty to work safely and not endanger other employees.

Breaches of HaSAWA involving injury or death are tried as criminal offences

There are several aspects of UK/English Law that employers should be aware of.

The key phrasing in the Health and Safety at Work Act is it shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees. People do argue about what 'reasonably practicable' can mean, but the history of cases and prosecutions since 1974 has brought a common understanding within industry. The main interpretations are that employers' duties include:

  • provide and maintain a safe workplace
  • provide safe means of entry and exit to work site
  • provide safe equipment and systems of work
  • provide safe storage and transport of materials
  • provide safe use of materials and substances
  • provide adequate information, supervision and training
  • provide safe working environment
  • provide adequate welfare and hygienic facilities

Most of these duties are described in greater details in additional regulations published since 1974. At the foot of this page I've made a list of the important regulations affecting small/medium sized businesses in particular.

It is important that businesses realise that criminal liability arises where an employer is in breach of statute law.

In Coventry & Warwickshire we have our own office of the Health & Safety Executive (HSE). They have the power to inspect any work premises - they will usually do so when informed of a serious problem or when an accident has been reported.There are two ways in which their inspectors will pursue employers who have broken the statute law:

  • Enforcement notices - this can require an employer to stop work or a process until it is changed and satisfactorily improved, or they might give the employer a time within which to make an improvement.
  • Criminal prosecution - they can immediately take an employer to court

Usually the enforcement notice is the quickest way to fix a problem, and it can mean prosecution is avoided - but not always.

Enforcement notices are commonly issued to employers who are using machinery that is not properly guarded or using chemical processes improperly and posing risks to employees.

Civil Liability arises mainly through a breach of the duty of care owed to others under common law. Such breaches are known as torts in England and, with regard to the safety of employees, the most common tort is negligence. Another common tort, usually affecting the public, is nuisance and your business might breach this through, for example, generating excessive noise or air pollution. Any of these breaches can lead to claims for damages.

Often a breach of criminal duty may also give rise to civil liability and a claim for damages.

I should also mention Approved Codes of Practice (ACoPs). These are issued by the Health and Safety Commision and are guidelines on how to comply with safety law, particularly with regard to certain types of machinery and hazardous substances. Failure to comply with these codes can be used as evidence in criminal and civil proceedings. I've listed a few at the foot of this page.

Finally I should mention that by law your business should display certain things on the premises, for example a poster titled the Health & Safety Law Poster, your own Safety Policy and your own certificate of Employer's Liability Compulsory Insurance.

Contact Wright Safety Solutions for a more complete consultation with regard to Safety Law - you need to know where you stand to avoid prosecution and avoid compensation payouts.

Oh, and you are insured aren't you? (Employers' Liability Compulsory Insurance).

Wright Safety Solutions
John A. B. Wright
B.Sc. (Chem), TechIOSH
safety qualification: NEBOSH (Gen.Cert.)

Tel: (024) 76618235
Mobile: 0779 3880597


Important regulations:

and there are many more dealing with electricity, fire, noise, vibration etc.

Important Approved Codes of Practice:


this page first published 21 January 2007
last updated 12 January 2020

Health and Safety for Coventry and Warwickshire medium/small businesses

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