What are the main health and safety laws in the UK?

It may be daunting if you are a new business owner or have been tasked with managing health and safety (H&S) for your workplace and you find yourself trying to navigate legislation and requirements. H&S legislation is a very important topic for every workplace not just in Wales, but for every business in the UK. It’s vital that you get it right and know what is expected of every workplace. If you do not, then there will not only be serious legal and financial consequences, but it will also impact the lives of your employees. 

In this blog post, we’ll be looking at what the major health and safety legislation is in the UK, and what steps businesses need to take to ensure they comply with the law.  

St John Ambulance Cymru is here to help your enterprise become and stay compliant. We offer courses in workplace first aid, H&S and mental health. If you’d like to know more contact our Commercial Training team with no obligation by calling 0345 678 5646. You can also send them an email if you prefer. 

What is H&S legislation? 

H&S legislation is a set of laws and regulations which are designed to promote and protect the health, safety, and well-being of employees, workers, and embers of the public in various workplaces and environments. The primary goal is to prevent accidents, injuries, and illnesses related to work activities. It is also to ensure that employers provide a safe and healthy working environment for their employees. 

What is the most important health and safety legislation in the UK? 

As you can imagine, there are a lot of laws and regulations concerning health and safety for the workplace in the UK. Although this may appear complicated, St John Ambulance Cymru is here to simplify it for you if you are confused. There is one key piece of legislation which is the base of all others, and even in 2023 is considered the most important law relating to health and safety regulation in the UK. This law is called The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. It is sometimes shortened to HSWA, or HSWA 1974. 

What is so important about The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974? 

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 is one of the UK’s most essential pieces of H&S legislation. It provides the foundation for H&S regulations in various workplaces, helping to ensure the safety and well-being of workers across different industries. 

By promoting a culture of safety and risk management, the act contributes to safeguarding the health and well-being of workers, reducing workplace accidents, and enhancing productivity in the UK's workplaces. 

There are three key duties that make The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 important. It makes clear the H&S duties which: 

  • employers have towards employees and members of the public  

  • employees have to themselves and to each other  

  • certain self-employed have towards themselves and others 

Because the HSWA act is so broad, it is very versatile and highly inclusive. As industries have developed and the demands of H&S have changed, so has the law, making it extremely applicable even in 2023. It is this adaptability and thoroughness that also makes it a key law when it comes to criminal prosecutions. 

Essentially, the law puts the responsibility for H&S on the employer. 

What does the act cover? 

As a brief overview, the HSWA 1974 covers four key aspects. It mandates that there is; 

  • Suitable training of staff to ensure health and safety practices are understood and followed 

  • Suitable welfare provisions for staff while they are at work 

  • A safe working environment that is properly maintained and work is conducted safely 

  • That there is suitable information and instruction to inform employees about regulations and their duties. 

If you are an employer, then sections 2-6 of HSWA 1974 are very important, as they identify what you are responsible for in order to create and maintain a safe working environment. The requirements can be summarised as: 

  • Preparing and distributing a workplace H&S policy, updating whenever there is a change in legislation. 

  • Instructing and informing employees how to carry out workplace H&S. 

  • Ensuring that the health of members of the public or other visitors to your place of work is taken into consideration. 

  • Making sure that the workplace remains compliant with legislation. 

  • Consulting with unions and other industry bodies where appropriate. 

  • Providing PPE where required. 

If you are an employee, then the HSWA sections 7-9 are a must-read for you. These sections include: 

  • Taking reasonable self-precautions at work and for themselves and for those around them. 

  • Working with their employer to make sure that H&S rules are followed correctly.  

  • Promising to follow any implemented legislation, and to not undermine the rules in place. 

Who Enforces H&S legislation? 

Enforcement of health and safety-related law and regulations is done by the Health and Safety Executive, otherwise known as the HSE.  

Who does the HSWA apply to? 

If you are wondering whether The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 applies to you, the answer is a yes. What makes the law so special is that it applies to all industries, and everyone who works within those industries or who encounters them as members of the public, regardless of size. There it’s fair to say that if you are an employee or employer in the UK, or are visiting premises, this legislation will apply to you.  

What are the consequences of non-compliance with The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974? 

Every year companies across the UK are found to not be compliant with H&S regulations, and this can have hugely damaging consequences for your business. So much so, it will be much more cost-effective to become and remain compliant. However, let’s say that you fail to meet the standards of the HSWA. What’s the worst that can happen? 

Firstly, it’s important to note that the HSE can and will issue a Notice of Prohibition or Improvement should a breach of the guidelines be found. Should breaches continue, there can be a fine of up to £20,000. 

However, this is not the limit to punishment. A breach or issue that can endanger a life is punishable by an unlimited fine and/or time in prison. If an employee is injured at work and it is due to a breach, then they have the opportunity to sue the business. 

There are also other facts to take into consideration. For example, being found to be non-compliant with H&S regulations can result in huge reputational damage to your business and can result in disqualification from relevant industry bodies.  

What other important H&S legislation do I need to be aware of? 

As we’ve mentioned, although The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 is one legislation you must be compliant and fully understand there’s also other legislations which may or may not apply to your business. It’s important to note that these are not separate from HSWA 1974, but rather complement it. The list below contains many important pieces of legislation, such as: 

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992  

The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992  

The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992  

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992  

The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998  

The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995  

The Working Time Regulations 1998 (as amended) 

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 

Please note that this list is not exhaustive. 


There’s no doubt about it that health and safety legislation in the UK might be daunting, especially if you are a new business or trying to understand recent updates to the law. However, The Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974 is at the core of all H&S regulations in the UK. If you are going to start your H&S compliance journey, then this law is the place to start. After this, you should research your specific industries and see if there are any other laws that you will need to follow. 

St John Ambulance Cymru can help keep your workplace H&S compliant. 

St John Ambulance Cymru is the health and safety leader in Wales. In fact, when it comes to first aid compliance, we advise the HSE on what its standards should be. We run a range of first and and health and safety courses which will ensure that your business is compliant with all relevant legislation. Our training is led by highly trained H&S professionals who have real-world experience in practice and implementation. Our in-person classes are held across Wales and are a fantastic opportunity to really get hands-on with your training. Our courses include an exam at the end and certification, which looks great on your CV or if you need to become qualified for your role. Take a look at our wide range of courses. 

Our Commercial Training team are always ready to take your call and discuss your training needs. They can help you with an assessment and understand the kind of H&A coverage you need for your workplace. They will also suggest what courses should be taken. Get in touch today with no obligation. Call 0345 678 5646, or if you prefer then you can instead send them an email. 

Published August 8th 2023

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