Health and safety in the laboratory and field
Health and safety in the laboratory and field

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Health and safety in the laboratory and field

2 Legal requirements of health and safety in the UK

The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act (HSWA) 1974 states that:

  • It is the duty of every employer, so far as is reasonably practicable, to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees (this includes students).

  • It is the duty of every employee while at work to take reasonable care of himself (herself) and of other persons who may be affected by his (her) acts or omissions at work.

  • The employees must cooperate with the employer with regard to health and safety procedures.

This covers all types of employment within the United Kingdom.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 applies to all work activities, whether for profit or not. The main sections of the Act are quoted in the paragraphs below:

Section 2: General duties of employers to employees

  1. It shall be the general duty of every employer to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all of his employees.

Section 3: General duties of employers and self-employed to persons other than their employees

  1. It shall be the duty of every employer to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health and safety.

Section 4: General duties of persons concerned with premises to persons other than their employees

Translated into plain English, this section describes the duty of the employer to minimise the risks from equipment and substances to those who are not employed, e.g. undergraduate student, visitors, maintenance contractors, members of the public, etc., also to ensure that these people have a safe entry to and exit from the premises of the employer.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (updated 2002) are the most significant regulations in the current health and safety legislation. They are accompanied by an Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) and Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance.

Regulation 3: Risk assessment

In plain English, this means the employer must carry out a risk assessment whenever people are employed and this must take into account all the statutes and ACOPs, including fire precautions, which all persons must be told about.

The host employer must provide these persons with adequate information regarding the risks to their health and safety.

In view of the fact that Acts of Parliament take a long time to be enacted, and health and safety is an ever-changing subject, the HSWA 1974 allows for regulations to be introduced and regular updates to these regulations to be made.

Table 1 lists the legal requirements that must be conformed to when working in most universities.

Table 1 Legal requirements

Health and Safety at Work etc. Act (1974)
Fire Precautions Act (1971)
Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations (1997)
Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999)
Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations (1992)
Manual Handling Regulations (1992)
Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (2002) (COSHH)
Electricity at Work Regulations (1989)
Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulation (1998) (PUWER)
Noise at Work Regulations (1989) (2003)
Genetically Modified (Contained Use) Regulations (1992)
Health and Safety (Training for Employment) Regulations (1990)
Ionising Radiations Regulations (1999)
Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations (1992)
Health and Safety (First Aid) Regulations (1981)
Chemicals (Hazard Information for Packaging and Supply) Regulations (2002)

These statutes and regulations are all enforced by the HSE or Environmental Health Officers (Local Authority) and could result in criminal prosecution or in improvement notices for lesser offences. It should be noted that criminal liability cannot be insured against by employers, directors or employees.

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