In the UK, the health and safety executive has the power to issues approved codes of practice (ACOP). The purpose of an ACOP is to provide guidance on compliance with the law.

Statute law

A statute is an act of parliament. Legislation begins as a bill which must pass various readings in both houses. The house of commons and the house of lords.

Once a bill is passed by both houses, it receives royal assent. Making it part of the law.

The most important piece of health and safety statute law is the health and safety at work act.

The official approved codes of practice (ACOP) are important sources of reference material. ACOPs identify the requirements of health and safety legislation. ACOPs also provide sound health and safety practices.

Employers should keep a library of the approved codes of practices that are relevant to their activities. These approved codes of practice should be being used to implement the requirements of health and safety legislation.

It’s worth noting that approved codes of practice are being continually updated. This ensures that approved codes of practice are being kept inliner with new knowledge, changes and developments.

Regulations vs ACOPs

Unlike regulations, ACOPs do not lay down legal requirements. One cannot therefore be prosecuted for failing to comply with an ACOP. However, contravention of the advice provided in an ACOP can be used as evidence.

Therefore, failing to comply with an ACOP can be used to prove a breach of the health and safety at work act.

Guidance notes

Unlike approved codes of practice, guidance notes are purely advisory and therefore have no legal significance.

Issued by the health and safety executive, guidance notes are a series of further documents used to share practical experience.

Seen as invaluable documents, guidance notes indicate the ways that the health and safety executive expect employers to operate.

A guidance note will often accompany an approved code of practice. The health and safety executive publish guidance notes in eight different sets.

Published sets

  • CS – Chemical series
  • EH – Environmental hygiene series
  • GS – General series
  • MS – Medical series
  • PM – Plant and machinery
  • HS (G) – Health and safety (guidance) series
  • HS (R) – Health and safety (regulations) series
  • BPM – Best practical means

Many of the published guidance note are free. You can obtain copies from the HSE website, or from your local HSE office.