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Health and safety at work: criminal and civil law

Health and safety law (criminal law)

Under health and safety law, as an employer, you have a responsibility to protect workers and others from risk to their health, safety and welfare.

For straightforward guidance on how to comply with the law, read Health and safety made simple.


Health and safety law for Great Britain is made up of:

  • Acts of Parliament
  • statutory instruments (regulations)

The main piece of legislation is the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSWA). You can read this on

Certain work activities have specific regulations, such as those for construction work or working with asbestos.

Industry specific health and safety legislation

Complying with the law

No one has to have been harmed for an offence to be committed under HSWA – there only has to be a risk of harm.

The most important thing is what you actually do to manage and control risk in the workplace. Paperwork alone does not prove that you’re complying with the law.

Do not overstate the health and safety controls you have or are planning to put in place. If you do, that could be used against you.

If you do not comply with the law

If you do not comply with a regulation relevant to your work, you’ll normally be committing a criminal offence. You could:

If the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have to help you put things right, you’ll need to pay for their time. This is called a ‘fee for intervention’ (FFI).

Who enforces health and safety law?

The authority that’s responsible for enforcing health and safety law depends on the type of workplace. Mostly it will be HSE or the local authority.

For your workplace, find out who enforces health and safety law.

Updated 2019-09-24