Legislation, or statute law, is the law of the land and comprises of Acts of Parliament, Regulations and Orders. If a person or business breaks the law they are committing a criminal offense and are likely to be punished by the courts. Health and Safety legislation has existed in the UK since the 1800s when people started to work in factories and were exposed to very high risks as machines were often un-guarded and the pursuit of profit was more important than human life.
Fortunately Health and Safety in the workplace has substantially improved and has built up into a large body of case law on which to draw legal guidance on the practical meaning of these duties. Since the early 1970s UK law has been influenced by the European Union although many people believe that this has had an adverse affect on the legislative framework, it remains the law and one that we all need to work within. Successive governments have tried to tinker with the system as it is seen as a vote winner to say they will reduce the number of onerous Health and Safety legislations, although it is more difficult in practice. The overall message that a business owner should not injure their staff seems to have been lost!
Whilst all legislation is not equal, it is useful to understand the various levels of UK law and how a business needs to follow the requirements.
Acts of Parliament, such as the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, set out a framework of objectives or principles that need to be followed. Failure to comply with an act is a criminal offense and subject to court actions e.g. financial penalties and/or imprisonment.
Regulations are secondary legislation and made under an Act of Parliament. Examples are the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 and Pressure Systems Regulations 2000. Breaches of regulations are also a criminal offense and subject to the same court actions.
Approved Codes of Practice (ACOP's) supplement the acts and give more detail and real life experience to provide more information for business owners. Failure to comply with ACOP's is not a criminal office but can be used as evidence that the relevant act was not complied with. The HSE have recently made most, if not all, ACOP's free to download so that everyone has an opportunity to understand how they can comply with the law.
Guidance notes are produced by the Health and Safety Executive and provide their opinion on good practice. As with ACOP's they have not legal standing but are useful to show how an employer did or did not met legal standards.
Many trade organisations publish specific industry advice and again hold no legal status but contain more practical advice on steps a business owner can follow and are more user-friendly. The British Standards Institute (BSI) produce a wide range of technical standards that products or services need to follow to be seen as good practice and help comply with UK legislation.
Nigel J Welford is a qualified Health & Safety professional and believes in making health and safety as simple as possible whilst still being effective and meeting all the regulations. For his free report "The Secret To How Health & Safety Can Improve Your Business And Profits: 7 Everyday Pitfalls To Avoid" from http://bit.ly/TI68sD
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