Key Facts

Health and safety covers the regulations and procedures that are intended to prevent accidents and injuries in the workplace and in public environments. It is a worker's right to work in an environment where risks to their health and safety are properly controlled

Organisations have a number of responsibilities to ensure their operations are health and safety compliant including:

  • appointing a competent person to manage health and safety in the business,

  • preparing a health and safety policy,

  • doing risk assessments to identify hazards and assess risks at work,

  • inform workers about health and safety,

  • provide information and training to workers on health and safety,

  • have the right workplace facilities such as toilets, washbasins and other welfaire facilities needed by workers,

  • have appropriate first aid at work including the appropriate kit and training and appointing first aiders, 

  • displaying the law poster on health and safety, 

  • having appropriate insurance in place to protect workers and members of the public (if applicable), 

  • reporting certain accidents and illnesses to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)

Health and safety - the law

There are both criminal and civil laws that apply to workplace health and safety. If an organisation fails to protect its workers from getting hurt or ill or injured through work it could face: ​

  • action under criminal law by a regulator such as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE); or

  • a compensation claim made by the vicim under civil law. 

Health and safety law is mostly enforced by the HSE or local authority (but neither HSE or local authority has responsibility for applying civil law). 

The main piece of legislation is the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSWA). No one needs to have been harmed for an offence to have been committed under HSWA, there only has to be risk of harm. Paperwork alone does not prove that an organisation has complied with the law - they actually have to manage and control risk

Certain industries have specific regulations such as construction work for example. 

If an organisation fails to comply with a regulation, it will have committed a criminal offence and could face: 

  • verbal or written advice

  • an improvement or prohibition notice

  • prosecution. 

What do health & safety lawyers do?

The work of a health & safety lawyer tends to be split into two: preventative work and investigations and prosecutions. ​

Preventative work includes: 

  • advising organisations on how to comply with the regulatory framework for health and safety 

  • providing organisations with advice on how to manage supply chain contracts and the impact of health and safety

  • assisting organisations in drafting health and safety policies and training and other forms of risk management 

  • training directors of companies to comply with health and safety regulations and directors' duties

  • advising on health and safety management structures and chains of responsibility 

  • undertaking due diligence exercises to ensure health and safety documentation of a company is up to date and sufficient for compliance 

  • advising on new law impacts to the operations of an organisatio

Investigations and prosecution work includes: 

  • providing support to an organisation after a major workplace incident (attending the site if appropriate) and providing strategic support and planning on how to deal with the matter going forward to ensure damage limitation 

  • supporting an organisation under investigation including representing the organisation during the interview process and preparation of witness statements 

  • representing organisations and key individuals interested in an incident during inquests and coroners' inquiries and public enquiries (in cases of alleged/actual corporate manslaughter) 

  • providing litigious support to businesses when defending health and safety claims in court such as drafting court documents, gathering evidence and building defences and seeking counsel (barrister) support in the event the case goes to trial 

  • assisting organisations with press relations to control bad publicity following major incidents 

Skills required...

  • strong analytical skills (i.e. ability to analyse facts and interpret them against the law)

  • proactive attitude and practical thinker - lots of strategic planning following an incident 

  • interest in health and safety law and keeping up to date with developments

  • research

  • strong character (particularly if working in defence work) as the work mainly involves defending organisations that have breached health and safety legislation causing harm to individual workers