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Health and Safety at Work Act 1974


One of the most important pieces of UK health and safety legislation of the 20th century is the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Before this Act was introduced, health and safety with regards to workplaces tended to be industry-specific, and was largely reactive instead of proactive, meaning that new legislation was only introduced after a serious accident had taken place. Prior to the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 being introduced, existing health and safety legislation concentrated more on ensuring that the equipment being used was safe, rather than raising the awareness of employees to work safely and take responsibility for occupational health and safety.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 was based on the findings of Lord Robens, who was tasked with reviewing the existing provisions of health and safety for those in the workplace. His recommendations led directly to the creation and introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, the main ones being:

  • Rather than different Acts for different industries, there should be a single Act which covers all workers. The main goal of the Act should be to change attitudes with regards to occupational health and safety, to be more proactive rather than reactive as in the past.

  • This proactive approach would involve the encouragement of employee participation to develop safe systems of work. This laid the foundations for a culture of health and safety in the workplace which many organisations today try and encourage.

  • The emphasis for enforcement would be directed to the employer for 'self-regulation', rather than reliance on prosecution by the courts, although this would still be in place for those who still failed to comply.

  • The Act would not only cover workers employed by the company, but would also include all the people affected by the activities of the company, including contractors, visitors and the public.

Whilst the Act is dated 1974, it is still current. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 in an Enabling Act, allowing further laws (Regulations) to be made without the need to pass another Act. Some Regulations apply across all industries (e.g. manual handling) whereas others cover hazards which are unique to certain industries such as construction or mining).

Enforcement of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974

Inspectors work either for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or the Local Authority, and have a number of rights, including the right to:

  • Enter premises at any reasonable time
  • Examine and investigate the premises, as well as require it to be left undisturbed and as it is
  • Take samples and photographs, and remove equipment or substances if deemed necessary
  • Require the production of relevant documentation
  • Seize, destroy or render harmless any article or hazardous substance if they deem it necessary
  • Issue an enforcement notice and initiate a prosecution

As well as the rights listed above, inspectors have a number of actions available to them once they have concluded their findings. These range from taking no action, to giving verbal or written advice, to serving a prohibition notice or even commencing prosecution proceedings if there is sufficient evidence and it is considered to be in the public interest.


The above is just a very brief introduction to the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and its enforcement. Specific details and a more in-depth look at the Act can be found on the Health and Safety Executive's website at


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DISCLAIMER: All health and safety text on this website is provided for information only. Legislation, best practice etc may have changed since it was written, so you should always seek expert advice which fully takes into account your individidual needs and circumstances. To discuss your specific requirements with one of our expert health and safety trainers and consultants, please call us on 0115 984 9940 or contact us online by clicking the envelope in the top right corner of the page.