Overview of Legislation and Guidance

There are a number of pieces of legislation which relate to health and safety at work. This can make the issue difficult and confusing to deal with.

This guide to the main pieces of legislation is aimed at improving your understanding of the legislative requirements that will probably be required to be met by you. Information on various other pieces of legislation and guidance not contained within this guide can be sourced using from ourĀ Environmental Health offices.

In essence the legislation that relates to health and safety at work comprises of:

Act of Parliament

The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 is the Act of Parliament that outlines the general principles to be applied in the field of occupational health, safety and welfare. It is the major piece of health and safety legislation in Great Britain.


Under the Act a number of regulations have been produced. These give substance to the provisions detailed in the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and contain specific details. Typical examples include:

  • the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH)
  • the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations
  • the Electricity at Work Regulations

Approved Codes of Practice

These approved codes of practice accompany regulations as a means of providing information and guidance on the practical interpretation of the same.

Approved Codes of Practice have a special legal status. If an employer is prosecuted for a breach of health and safety law and it is proved that they have not followed the relevant provisions of the Approved Code of Practice a court can find them at fault unless they can show that they have complied with the law in some other way.

Typical examples are the Approved Codes of Practice issued by the Health and Safety Commission - Control of Substances Hazardous to Health, Control of Carcinogenic Substances and Control of Biological Agents that accompany the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations.

Codes of Practice

These are not approved and as such they do not have legal status. They offer recommendations on complying with legislative requirements and in criminal proceedings may be used as evidence of what is reasonably practicable.


The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) publishes a wide range of Guidance Notes.

Whilst having no legal status they give general and specific advice on practical implementation of legislative requirements. A typical example is: EH40 Occupational Exposure Limits, which should be read in conjunction with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations and the various approved codes of practice that accompany the regulations.


HSE priced and free publications are available on the HSE website or by mail order from:

HSE Books
PO Box 1999
CO10 2WA
Tel: 01787 313995
Fax: 01787 313995

HSE priced publications are also available from bookshops.

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