The Legal Framework


The legal framework for health and safety revolves around enforcement, which has a wide meaning.

The term enforcement applies to all dealings between the enforcing authorities. and those on whom the law implies duties. (i.e. employers, employees, contractors and others)

The ultimate purpose of the enforcing authorities is to ensure that duty holders are preventing harm. Duty holders must therefore be able to evidence that they are effectively managing and controlling risk.

The enforcement of health and safety must always be fair but firm. Enforcement should be informed by the following principles:

  • Proportionality
  • Consistency
  • Targeting
  • Transparency
  • Accountability


Proportionality refers to the relation of the enforcement actions to the risk.

Any action taken by the enforcing authorities must be proportionate to the seriousness of the non-compliance.

Any action must also be proportionate to the actual or potential physical harm that arose from the breach of law.


Targeting means making sure that those who are best placed to control the risk are held responsible. This could be an employer but may also be a supplier or manufacturer.

Targeting may also include those whose activities gave rise to the most serious risk.


Not to be confused with uniformity. Consistency means that taking a similar approach, in similar circumstances, to achieve a similar end.

Consistency therefore plays a large role in common law.


The focus of transparency is to help duty holders understand what the enforcing authorities expect from them.

Transparency means making it clear to duty holders what they have to do. It also involves making it clear what requirements are relevant to their activities.

This will also include distinctions between what are statutory requirements and what is advice or guidance. Such distinctions will define what is desirable and not compulsory.


Regulators are accountable to the public for their actions. This means that enforcing authorities must have policies and standards against which they can be judged.

Such polices and standards must an effective and easily accessible mechanism for dealing with comments and handling complaints.

For further information, see the HSE enforcement policy.

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