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  • Rob Haywood

What is the primary goal of UK health & safety legislation?

At its core, health and safety legislation in the UK aims to foster a workplace environment that safeguards the well-being and health of all workers. This overarching objective is embedded within the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA), the cornerstone of UK health and safety law. The HSWA establishes an encompassing framework of regulatory requirements, placing a compelling obligation on employers to prioritise the safety and welfare of their employees.


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UK Law on Health & Safety

Employers must undertake comprehensive risk assessments to identify and prioritize potential hazards within their workplaces. Based on these assessments, they must implement appropriate control measures to eliminate or minimize risks to the lowest extent reasonably practicable (ALARP). These control measures may encompass a range of strategies:

  1. Source Control: Employers should strive to eliminate or reduce hazards at the source, such as replacing hazardous substances with safer alternatives or redesigning workspace layouts to mitigate the risk of falls.

  2. Engineering Controls: Installing safety guards or ventilation systems can further safeguard workers from hazards. These engineering controls serve as a physical barrier between workers and potential hazards.

  3. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): When engineering controls are insufficient, employers must provide appropriate PPE, such as gloves, safety glasses, or respirators, to adequately protect workers. PPE acts as a secondary line of defence, shielding workers from hazards that other means cannot eliminate or control.

  4. Safe Systems of Work: Employers should implement clear and well-defined safe work systems, including training employees on safe work practices and providing detailed procedures for handling hazardous substances or operating machinery. These systems ensure that workers are aware of potential hazards and know how to minimize their risk of exposure.

The HSWA also emphasizes the need for employers to provide a working environment that is both safe and healthy, taking into account various factors:

  1. Ergonomics: Workspaces, equipment, and tasks should be designed to minimise the risk of MSDs (musculoskeletal disorders) and other health issues. Ergonomics principles focus on aligning the body's posture, movements, and forces to reduce strain and prevent MSDs.

  2. Lighting: Adequate lighting is crucial for preventing slips, trips, and falls, as well as reducing the risk of eye strain and other health problems. Sufficient lighting allows workers to see and move safely in their work environment.

  3. Ventilation: Adequate ventilation is essential for removing dust, fumes, and other airborne contaminants that can cause respiratory problems and other health hazards. Proper ventilation to ensure that the air quality in the workplace is healthy and breathable.

Beyond the HSWA, a network of additional legislation addresses specific health and safety aspects in the UK. These include:

  1. The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002: These regulations control risks from hazardous substances in the workplace, ensuring that employers identify, assess, and control exposure to such substances.

  2. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSWR): These regulations provide detailed guidance on how employers should manage health and safety risks in their workplaces, including conducting risk assessments, implementing control measures, and providing health and safety training.

  3. The Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at Work Regulations 1992 specify the requirements for providing and using personal protective equipment (PPE), ensuring that PPE is appropriate for the identified hazards and that employees are trained on its proper use.

  4. The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992: These regulations address the risks associated with the use of visual display units (VDUs), ensuring that workstations are ergonomically designed, that VDU equipment is maintained and that employees are provided with adequate breaks and training to prevent MSDs and visual fatigue.

By adhering to these regulations and implementing effective health and safety management strategies, employers can create a safe and healthy working environment for all workers in the UK.

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