Ministry of defence (MOD) and the armed forces - Frequently asked questions

These FAQs help illustrate the nature of some of the issues that HSE routinely gives advice on.  The list is not exhaustive and further questions and answers may be added at a later date.


Does British health and safety legislation apply to British forces when overseas?

British health and safety legislation only applies within the baseline of Great Britain (GB), to certain offshore facilities and to certain other activities within territorial waters, subject to the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (Application Outside Great Britain) Order 2001. It does not apply to activities outside of these areas, so it will not apply to military operations abroad or to British bases in Gibraltar, Cyprus or Germany for example.

HSE does not investigate any incidents occurring outside GB.

HSE may however consider relevant information about incidents occurring outside GB - not for the purposes of investigating the incident itself - but in relation to any learning that is applicable to similar activities that take place in GB because such incidents may be indicative of breaches within GB, where the Act is applicable.

Where there is an incident resulting in significant exposure to risk outside HSE's jurisdiction as a result of decisions made in GB, HSE will not be responsible for investigating those decisions /activities if no risk arises in relation to employees at work in GB or to other persons in GB. Risks outside of GB may be subject to the legislation of the country where that risk arises.

The Secretary of State for Defence has stated that overseas, MOD will apply GB standards where reasonably practicable and, in addition comply with host nations' standards.

What incidents are reportable?

Cases of disease and accidents to members of the armed forces of the Crown or to members of visiting forces, when on duty, are not reportable under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR) (as amended). Defined dangerous occurrences are reportable.

Work related RIDDOR incidents involving civilian employees and accidents leading to death or hospitalisation of members of the public in Great Britain are reportable to HSE. General advice on RIDDOR and reportability of accidents is available from the HSE riddor website.

HSE Inspectors can and do investigate accidents to members of the armed forces which come to light through voluntary reporting by MOD or in other ways. Many of these arise from operational training. Incidents occurring outside Great Britain do not come within scope of RIDDOR. 

Does British health and safety legislation apply to visiting forces?

As with MOD, visiting forces in Great Britain (GB) are subject to the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSW Act), but formal enforcement procedures cannot be used.

In 1989 HSE, MOD and United States Forces (USF) entered into The Visiting Forces Agreement, in which USF agreed to extend full protection, rights and responsibilities of HSW Act to all civilian employees in GB and agreed to allow HSE to monitor observance by USF of health and safety legislation. The Agreement was updated in 2011.

The MOD and USF have a committee structure in place to ensure that appropriate safety standards are applied and maintained in circumstances where GB employees work on US Bases in GB.

Visiting forces of many nations also participate with British forces in NATO training exercises in GB; and individuals from overseas forces attend training courses in GB. The Visiting Forces Agreement is confined to US forces only. Units and individuals of other nationalities are equally subject to the HSW Act and whilst there is no protocol for their inspection, HSE may still investigate accidents or complaints where these foreign nationals appear to be duty holders or material witnesses.

HSE cannot take formal enforcement action against Visiting Forces. Some health and safety related legislation also has provision for the Secretary of State for Defence to exempt visiting forces.

What about First Aid provision?

The First Aid at Work Regulations 1981 apply only in Great Britain (GB) but do not apply to members of the armed forces, although the safety policy for the MOD states that they will aim to apply the same standards as far as reasonably practicable. The regulations do however apply to MOD civilian staff in GB.

MOD has produced its own guidance on First Aid at work in a leaflet contained in its Joint Service Publication JSP 375 – Health and safety handbook - which can be found on the MOD website.

Can HSE issue enforcement  notices or prosecute MOD?

HSE cannot issue improvement or prohibition notices on MOD or its Agencies as they are a crown body and exempt from enforcement action. However, HSE can issue crown enforcement notices on Crown Bodies. These are administrative notices which in practice have the same effect as improvement or prohibition notices, HSE cannot take prosecution action in a criminal court but HSE can take a Crown censure – an administrative sanction that is taken very seriously by Crown Bodies.

How does The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 apply to MOD?

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 came into force on 6th April 2008. Although the new offence is not part of health and safety law it allows a corporate body to be prosecuted where serious management failures result in a fatality. The ability to prosecute that body, directors or other individuals under health and safety law or the general criminal law, in appropriate cases, is unaffected.

The Act provides a number of specific exemptions, including the duty of care owed by MOD during defined 'Military activities'.

HSE is not the enforcing authority for this legislation but, where appropriate, may provide support and assistance to the police, the coroner or Procurator Fiscal and other prosecuting authorities where possible or in line with existing liaison arrangements. For more information see link to HSE corporate manslaughter website.

Topic specific

I live in Services Families Accommodation and wish to raise health and safety concerns – what should I do?

MOD's Defence Infrastructure Organisation manages the MOD accommodation and estate – including Service Families Accommodation. Guidance on requesting repairs or making complaints is contained on the MOD DIO Service Families Accommodation website.

In the first instance MOD employees / families should follow this guidance to resolve any issues.

I am a MOD employee and have a health and safety issue – how can I get it resolved?

Experience has shown that local MOD safety advisers are able to resolve issues quickly through the chain of command. It is therefore advisable to contact your local safety advisor, or chain of command, in the first instance in order to allow MOD to resolve the issue internally. Helpful information may also be obtained from specialist MOD safety teams, as well as from MOD websites and publications that deal with specific safety issues

I have concerns about Low flying military aircraft

Complaints and queries about noise from low flying military aircraft are normally dealt with by MOD, which has a low flying complaints form available on their website.

The MOD has also produced a leaflet in conjunction with the British Horse Society, explaining the key issues and offering safety advice for horse riders, entitled 'Military Helicopter Low Flying Safety - A Guide for Riders'.

How does  health and safety legislation apply to cadet organisations?

The cadet forces are community based, voluntary organisations. Using trained volunteer adult staff, they offer a varied range of activities, drawing on the relevant service model (Army, Navy, RAF), but modified so as to be developmental processes. There are 4 main cadet forces in Great Britain: Sea Cadet Corps, Army Cadet Force, Air Training Corps, and the Combined Cadet Force (CCF).

  • The Army Cadet Forces and Air Training Corps are regarded as being part of MOD's undertaking and therefore MOD has duties under HSW Act.
  • The Sea Cadets and CCF are not – although MOD employees working with these organisations will be and MOD may have duties under Section 3 HSW Act.

The MOD has the overall duty of care to ensure the safety of all cadets who take part in training activities under its auspices.

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Updated 2023-04-04