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The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 is the primary piece of legislation covering occupational health and safety in Great Britain. The Health and Safety Executive, with local authorities and other enforcing authorities are responsible for enforcing the Act and a number of other Acts and Statutory Instruments relevant to the working environment.

The basis for the act is to ensure that all workers have a right to work in places where risks to their health and safety are properly controlled.

Health and safety is about stopping you getting hurt at work or ill through work. Your employer is responsible for health and safety, but you must help.

The Act sets out the general duties which employers have towards employees and members of the public, and employees have to themselves and to each other.

These duties are qualified in the Act by the principle of ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’. In other words, an employer does not have to take measures to avoid or reduce the risk if they are technically impossible or if the time, trouble or cost of the measures would be grossly disproportionate to the risk. We will look at this term later in this course.

What the law requires here is what good management and common sense would lead employers to do anyway: that is, to look at what the risks are and take sensible measures to tackle them.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 generally make more explicit what employers are required to do to manage health and safety under the Health and Safety at Work Act. Like the Act, they apply to every work activity.

The main requirement on employers is to carry out a risk assessment. Employers with five or more employees need to record the significant findings of the risk assessment.