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health and safety law

Employers have to comply with health and safety rules. They are there to protect you, your colleagues and visitors to your employer’s premises. As well as rights, they give you, as an employee, certain responsibilities too. For example, if you interfere with anything provided for health and safety purposes, you could be prosecuted.

Health and safety rules cover issues such as:

  • ventilation;
  • temperature;
  • lighting;
  • cleanliness and waste materials;
  • floor space;
  • seating;
  • sanitation;
  • washing facilities;
  • smoking;
  • Visual Display Units (VDUs);
  • exposure to chemicals and other hazardous substances;
  • noise;
  • vibration;
  • working with equipment and machinery; and
  • lifting and moving loads (including people).

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 sets out the general principles of the UK’s health and safety law. There are also regulations, some of which apply to all industries and some which apply only to certain industries, types of premises or particular health and safety issues. Failure by an employer to comply with health and safety law is an offence and may lead to prosecution. Workers who exercise their health and safety statutory rights are protected from detrimental action by their employer.

The employer must ensure, "so far as is reasonably practicable" the health, safety and welfare of workers, – which includes minimising the risk of suffering stress at work. This has to be done by carrying out a risk assessment, consulting safety representatives and safety committees, and providing information, instruction and training to workers and others who are in a contractual relationship.

Approved Codes of Practice (ACOPs) are published from time to time containing guidance, examples of good practice and explanations of the law.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is the body responsible for health and safety policy and enforcement. In recent years, the European Union has been influential in adopting health and safety measures which are implemented by member states, including, of course, the UK.

More detail on your health and safety rights and responsibilities can be found on the HSE website.