Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA)

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA) set out a series of expectations for both employers and employees, and this act is what has shaped our current understanding of what is acceptable practice for health and safety at work in the UK.

Responsibilities for employees

The Act states that Employees must be actively involved in creating a safe and secure environment for work, and take reasonable care over their own health and safety. There is a system of ‘self-regulation’ in the UK, where trade union representatives are responsible for liaising with employers in order to provide a safe environment.

Responsibilities for employers

Responsibilities for employers figure very highly in the HSWA. They include a duty to maintain safe work systems and to remove health and safety risks where possible for the handling of substances. Employers must also maintain a safe working environment, particularly with reference to access and exits, and provide any facilities which are necessary for the welfare of employees.

Statement of Health and Safety Policy

An employer must have a Statement of Health and Safety Policy, including written details of their health and safety practices, revised when necessary. An organisation with fewer than five employees does not need a written Statement, but must still provide health and safety training.


Employers must make sure employees are aware of health and safety requirements, including training and supervision when necessary. The HSWA states that it is an employer’s responsibility to ‘provide such information, instruction, training and supervision as is necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of their employees’.

It is necessary to provide this information to visitors, contractors and sub-contractors, as well as to employees.

Safety Representatives

Employers must speak regularly with ‘safety representatives’ to investigate any safety concerns raised by employees. If two or more safety representatives ask for it, the employer is required to establish a ‘health and safety committee’, to observe the health and safety practices within the company.