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Health and safety law: Myths and facts

Wet floor signHealth and safety law is a popular target for jokes, but how does it really work?

You’ve probably heard a few stories about silly health and safety laws, like conkers being banned or firefighters’ poles being removed. If you’ve ever thought they sound unbelievable, you might be right.

For example, a new fire station in Devon was built without a pole, leading to the story about a ban – but in fact, there simply wasn’t room for it in the building. There is no regulation banning poles from fire stations.

In fact, misunderstandings about health and safety are so common that the Health and Safety Executive, which regulates and enforces health and safety, ran a “Myth of the Month” feature for nearly three years.

But these misunderstandings have to start somewhere, so what does the law say about health and safety?

How does health and safety law really work?

Health and safety laws are designed to make sure that people do not have to work in an unsafe environment. The general law on workplace health and safety is set out in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. This covers things like making sure that any equipment is properly maintained and providing proper training to employees.

There are other Acts of Parliament which cover more specific areas. For example, the Mines and Quarries Act 1954 covers health and safety issues to do with mines and quarries.

As well as these laws, there are “statutory instruments”, also known as regulations. These are not made by Parliament, but are instead decided by the Health and Safety Executive. They cover more specific areas, such as radiation safety or the handling of explosives. The Health and Safety at Work act gives the HSE the power to make these rules on its own.

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