In 1974, the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act created safety legislation to protect individuals at their place of work. Prior to the act around eight million employees had no protection. The new act was aimed at encouraging high standards of health and safety in all workplaces and today it continues to protect both employees and members of the public from any harm caused by work activities.
Under the Health and Safety Act the employer has the greatest responsibility for ensuring that the workplace is as safe as possible, but everyone has to comply with the law, including employees, trainees, suppliers, designers, the self-employed, importers of work equipment and manufacturers. For a business, a safe workplace makes good business sense.
Although the Health and Safety Act did much to protect employees, there is some feeling that it requires updating to keep up with changes in the labour market. The growth of small businesses and self-employed individuals, deregulation of the labour market, declining union membership and the growth of intensive working practices, service industries and the changing composition of employment, provide continuing challenges to health and safety at work.
All workplaces, without exception, are covered by the Health and Safety regulations but for most businesses the Health and Safety Act is enforced by a Local Authority Environmental Health Officer. Large construction, manufacturing or industrial sites, however, will be subject to regular inspections by the Health and Safety Executive. Officers of the Health and Safety Executive can carry out inspections at any reasonable time without prior notification, see any documents and take copies if required, ask questions under caution, seize substances or articles in cases of imminent danger, stop work on sites where breaches of the law are occurring, and dismantle and take away any equipment or substances. They may also issue legal documents requiring improvements to be made and prohibiting work until the improvements have been completed. The HSE inspectors may also choose to prosecute either the employer or employees as a result of any breaches of the law that they have discovered.
The Health and Safety Executive also acts as a valuable resource for information on how to improve health and safety at work. It provides simple guides explaining what employers and employees should know about the regulations.
If an employee believes that there is a safety issue at his or her workplace and the employer has failed to act on their concerns, they can report the issue to the appropriate authority. This will be the local authority for most offices (apart from government offices), shops, hotels, restaurants, leisure premises, nurseries, pubs and clubs, private museums, sheltered accommodation and care homes and places of worship. For factories, farms, fairgrounds, offshore installations, gas, water and electricity companies, mines, nuclear installations, building sites, hospitals and nursing homes, schools, colleges and government premises, it is the HSE. Depending on the type of workplace there may also be other enforcement bodies who can be contacted.
If you have suffered a work-related illness or injury, Accident Advice Helpline can help you. We have experience in helping individuals with their claims, and our experts will be able to advise you on any claim that you wish to make.