2 The Key Statute: The Health and Safety at Work, etc (HSW) Act (1974)
- The Health and Safety at Work, etc Act (1974) arose from recommendations made by the Robens Committee; a committee set up by the government to determine the effectiveness of the rather shambolic and piecemeal plethora of statutes and statutory instruments which were in place at that time.
- The Robens Committee concluded that the old law should be progressively swept away, and replaced by a single statute (an ‘enabling’ Act) supplemented by Regulations and Codes of Practice. Since 1974, this pattern has been adopted, so that by the turn of the century the major legislative provisions which were pre-1974 will have considerably reduced significance or relevance.
- The Health and Safety at Work, etc Act (1974) is based upon principles which are fundamentally different from previous health and safety legislation. These differences are designed to bring about a greater awareness of the problems which surround health and safety matters, a greater involvement of those who are, or should be, concerned with improvement in occupational health and safety and a positive movement away from the apathy and indifference which tended to surround the whole subject.
- The ‘differences’ from earlier legislation are that the HSW Act:
- applies to people and not to premises; it covers all employees in all employment situations;
- covers considerably more people (approx. 8 million more) than previous legislation;
- requires all employers (eg the University) to take account of both employees and non-employees who may be affected by their work activities;
- is a criminal statute and does not give rise to civil liability and thus punishment, rather than compensation is the keynote;
- has provisions such as the requirement for safety policies, safety representatives and safety committees, which are designed to increase personal involvement, individual responsibility and create a proactive atmosphere for accident prevention; and
- is tempered with the legal standard of ‘as far as is reasonably practicable’, allowing employers more freedom to decide their own health and safety measures based on risk. Previously the imperative standard of ‘shall’ gave no such flexibility.
Duties of Employers
- As an employer the University has a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of its employees.
- This duty includes:
- the provision and maintenance of plant (eg portable electrical appliances) and systems of work that are safe and without risk to health;
- the making of arrangements for ensuring safety and absence of risk when using, handling or transporting articles and substances; and
- the provision of appropriate health and safety information, instruction, training and supervision.
- The University also has a duty to conduct its work in such a way as to ensure that, so far as is reasonably practicable, persons not in its employment (eg students, visitors and members of the public) are not exposed to risks to their health or safety.
- It shall be the duty of any person (within or outside the University) who designs, manufactures, imports or supplies any article for use at work to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that;
- the article is so designed as to be safe and without risks to health when properly used;
- such testing and examination is carried out to allow the article to be used safely and without risk to health; and
- adequate information about the use for which it was designed is provided.
Duties of Employees
- It shall be the duty of every employee of the University, while at work :
- to take reasonable care for the health and safety of himself and of other persons who may be affected by his acts or omissions; and
- as regards any duty or requirement imposed on his employer (or and other person by or under any of the relevant statutory provisions) to co-operate with him, so far as is necessary to enable that duty or requirement to be performed or complied with.