An Introduction to Health and Safety Laws in the UK

An Introduction to Health and Safety legislation in the UK

Employers in the UK are required by law to provide standardized health and safety protections in the workplace, to ensure that employees do not suffer from injuries or contract illnesses over the course of performing their duties. Although not legally binding in and of themselves, employers are required to create procedures to be followed and make every reasonably expectable attempt to abide by them.

These duties for employers were originally laid out in the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 and the regulations are enforced by a government department called the Health and Safety Executive, which also carries out various research projects to help improve workplace safety and employee welfare. For example, here is a research project conducted by the department in collaboration with the Psychology department at Heriot Watt University in 2007 to explore psychosocial factors that pertain to employee welfare in small to medium sized businesses and workplaces:

The Health and Safety Executive’s purpose is not only to provide protections for employees, but also to assist employers in making the most of their human resources. Prospective entrepreneurs should view this government department as an asset and source of support.

Previously, UK employers were required to follow specific, enforceable rules, laid out in detail. However, the process of drafting these rules was eventually seen to be too slow to keep up with technological changes in various industries, and therefore impractical. Currently, the Health and Safety executive requires employers to set goals, manage risks and follow guidelines.

Although it is not illegal to proceed in ways different from what Health and Safety regulations indicate, employers will have to justify such decisions with a detailed risk assessment, which the employee must be made fully aware of.

Workers are able to participate in the process of setting regulations by electing representatives from among their colleagues to serve on committees and advisory boards.

In 2014, the UK government founded the Health and Work service, which provides health care assessment and treatment plans for employees that have to take a long term medical leave of absence. This replaces the previous policy where the government would reimburse employers for such healthcare costs, which they would initially pay themselves.

UK Health and Safety regulations are currently linked with those of the European Union. Due to the decision to leave the European Union resulting from the referendum in 2016, a few regulations enacted by the European parliament may have to be replaced by new British regulations, although the UK’s access to the European single market would depend on following EU law.

No specific changes have been announced yet, and it is likely that the for all intents and purposes the status quo will be upheld. However, there is a certain amount of overlap with environmental regulations, which are currently set by the European Union. Domestically, one area that could see changes would be land conservation and wildlife habitat protections. These regulations are prescriptive, detailed and apply uniformly across the EU, unlike the flexible guideline and objective oriented employee welfare regulations in place, and could potentially be replaced by more flexible regulations, although they would still have to meet international agreements for climate change impact and waste management.