Structure of Health and Safety Law


There are 5 key parts of the structure of health and safety law in the UK. Each part having a clear purpose to ensure consistent compliance and prosecution.

In this blog post we will cover the distinction between each part of the structure of health and safety law in the UK. Along with the role of each section and how they all interlink.

Cenheard, Structure of Health and Safety Law
Hierarchy of the structure of health and safety law

An example is included at the end, but for now, here are the 5 key components that make up the structure of health and safety law in the UK:

The role of Acts in Health and Safety Law Structure

The top of the law structure is Acts. Acts, also known as statutes, are laws made by parliament.

The primary Act that governs health and safety in the UK is the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASAWA).

The Health and Safety at Work Act provides a framework, under which, legislation has been introduced to cover specific areas of the Act.

Breaching anything written in an act will likely result in prosecution. This is because acts are criminal law. Meaning that prosecutions are held at the crown court, the high court, the court of appeal and the house of lords – cases have to be proven beyond all reasonable doubt.

Cenheard, Health and safety at work act sign

For more information on the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 or criminal law visit these blog posts:

Legislation in the structure of Health and Safety Law

Legislation is the laws that make up the Act/Regulation and therefore plays an important role in the structure of health and safety law.

In health and safety, legislation makes up the individual sections of the Health and Safety at Work Act. Setting into law the governance of the Act.

Each piece of legislation sets out clear requirements of compliance and, for their purpose and proposed use in courts, they are written in legal jargon.

Cenheard, Health and safety legislation

The legal statements used in legislation are not specific when relating to daily activities. It’s important for state progression that legislation does not hinder enhancements in growth or technology.

Therefore legislation is written very ‘open-ended’ and relies on the interpretation of the courts when being used in prosecutions. This is where common law plays a vital role, where historic cases are widely used by judges to interpret legislation and determine what is or isn’t acceptable in terms of personal or corporate prosecution.

Role of Regulations in health and safety

Regulation forms the bulk of the health and safety legal reference material that professionals use to gauge compliance. The role of regulations is to set out more specific legislation with explicit duties to reinforce the general duties outlined in an Act – in our case, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

Cenheard, health and safety regulations

In 1993, the UK implemented a series of regulations, commonly known as the Six Pack. Although additional regulations are now considered to be included, such as the Working Time Regulations 1998.

As regulations are also made up of pieces of legislation, they are written in criminal law, meaning that breaching regulations is a criminal offence.

ACOPs in Health and Safety Law

ACOP stands for ‘Approved Code Of Practice’ and they are used by the HSE to provide guidance on compliance with the law.

Similarly to Acts, Regulations are written in legal jargon as they are comprised of pieces of legislation. To help people understand how to comply with the regulations – and ultimately the Health and Safety at Work Act – ACOPs are written for specific tasks.

ACOPs HSE printscreen

Each ACOP includes clear standards of work or operations and are important sources of reference material. Without ACOPs, it becomes very difficult for duty holders and professionals to interpret the legislation; as it is not within their expertise to be able to determine the outcome of a potential prosecution in the courts.

ACOPS are therefore vital to the physical application of health and safety regulations at ground level, where the daily hazards of work unfold. Without ACOPs it is often tiresome to figure out how the regulations apply at task level.

To learn more about ACOPs visit our dedicated ‘Approved Codes of Practice (ACOP)‘ blog post.

The role of Guidance Notes in Health and Safety Law

Guidance notes are last in the hierarchy of the structure of Health and Safety Law in the UK. They are the final piece of information provided to gain clarity on what is required of duty holders, under the legislation that forms the regulations and the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Often accompanying an ACOP (approved code of practice). Guidance notes are seen as an indication of how the HSE expects employers and employees to operate and behave.

Guidance notes HSE printscreen

Whilst they have zero legal significance, they are vital in providing a shared understanding of expectations and practical application of legal compliance.

To learn more about guidance notes visit our dedicated ‘Guidance Notes‘ blog post.

Practical Example of the Structure of Health and Safety Law

In this practical example of the structure of health and safety law, let’s take a look at the governance of lighting in the workplace…

A potential scenario…

Some new workplace lighting is to be installed, down a corridor with no windows. What legal material is available to help determine if the installation will be compliant with current legislation? Let’s take look…

  1. ACT
    • The Health and Safety at Work Act includes legislation placing a duty on employers to provide lighting to ensure that work can be performed safely.
  2. Regulation
    • The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, Regulation 8 states:
      • “Every workplace shall have suitable and sufficient lighting.”
  3. ACOP
    • L24: Workplace health, safety and welfare, section 81 states:
      • “Lighting should be sufficient to enable people to work, use facilities without experiencing eye-strain, and safely move from place to place.”
  4. Guidance Note
    • HSG38: Lighting at work, section 94 lists minimum lighting levels for particular areas and work activities.
      • Including a minimum measured illuminance level of 5lux for the movement of people in corridors.


It’s clear from the example above, how much more detail we are given as we descend down the hierarchical structure of health and safety law.

It’s also clear just how much effort has to go into creating the laws that we all have to abide by.

Like most things with government, this system doesn’t allow much wriggle room for a quick responses to changes.

This structure also illustrates why the more clarity we get, the less enforceable the guidance we’re given is. Our conundrum of legislation.

For more Health and Safety Law visit the HSE website

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