Health and safety compliance

General Safety By Matthew Coombes

Compliance in the world of health and safety can mean multiple things: compliance with legal requirements in your country, compliance with standardised international standards, compliance with best practice or even compliance with internal requirements.

Compliance with the law

Meeting or exceeding legal expectations set out by the law structure in your country of origin, or law that your country is bound to such as International Labour Law.

In the UK, this will mean not being in breach of relevant legislation such as the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) and the Management of Health and Safety in the Workplace Regulations (1999), in addition to any specific legislation that covers that risk, such as the Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order (2005), or the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992.

The UK has some of the most robust and oftentimes straightforward legislation in the world. The Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) is very clear on what it expects from organisations and employees alike and is still relevant even 48 years after its initial creation.

However, legislation being what it is – a written set of rules – not all legislation is as good. The Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order (2005) is a specific example of poorer legislation, as instead of providing a breakdown of roles and responsibilities expected of them, it uses a fluid/dynamic role referred to as the ‘responsible person’. This use of the ‘responsible person’ makes whoever has the most control (both material and logistical) the person that’s responsible for fire safety.

This can often lead people to not fully understand if they are responsible, what they are responsible for and in some cases, who is footing the bill for fire safety.


The International Labour Organisation (ILO) have added safety and health to their Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. This means that when the provisions come into force in December 2024, any ILO Member State must promote a safe and healthy working environment.

The way that health and safety compliance is governed internationally is predominantly based on the ILO Occupational Safety and Health Convention C155, this requires member states to establish a framework for non-compliance, and establish penalties for those that are non-compliant with health and safety law in the country.

Compliance with certificated standards

The International Organisation for Standardisation exists to produce guidance and frameworks that organisations across the world can use to improve their performance, or at least standardise their performance to set expectations. Each standard is for a specific topic and is created by industry professionals relevant to the standard.

The standards most relevant to health and safety are:

  • ISO 45001 – Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems
  • ISO 45003 – Occupational Health and Safety Management – Psychological Health and Safety at work – Guidelines for managing psychosocial risks

Any organisation can look to align their management of health and safety with the internationally standardised documents. When the organisation feels like they are meeting the criteria of the standard, they will be able to be audited in order to see if they are compliant with the standard, and if successful, they can become certified as compliant with ISO 45001.

Compliance with best practice

In health and safety, the best way to manage a hazard can often change. A lot of information that we get on some of the most significant hazards to health has to be measured over a long period of time. New scientific research is conducted measuring specific hazards and technology can improve on identifying and measuring problems.

So, things that we once perceived as ‘safe’ may not be, and limits on how much exposure to something can be damaging, or even lethal, can change. Some good examples of this are:

  • Asbestos – used widely across the UK in everything from gaskets to doors to insulation, when the health effects of asbestos were looked at longitudinally, it was found that inhaling asbestos fibres can lead to mesothelioma and other lung cancers.Workplace Exposure Limit – No safe exposure
  • Welding fumes – In 2019, new scientific evidence showed that the fumes created while welding can cause lung cancer, this led to changes in how we manage welding fumes.Workplace Exposure Limit – Not yet set
  • Woodworking Dust – Woodworking, especially modern and mass production woodworking, creates dust, and hardwood or softwood dust is carcinogenic.
    Workplace Exposure Limit – 3mtg/m3 for hardwood, 5mg/m3 for soft wood (8-hour average exposure).
  • Silica Dust – The dust created by cutting, grinding, and drilling bricks and masonry can be very damaging to your lungs leading to breathing problems and respiratory cancers.Workplace Exposure Limit – 0.1 mg/m3

Legal exposure limits can change, but addressing issues with a large margin of error can often be best practice. For example, if you use an effective Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) system, you could reduce the airborne particles of any of the above health hazards to a point whereby the worker is not exposed at all.

As such, it can often be a good idea to go above and beyond legislative requirements, and to pay attention to best practice.

Compliance with internal standards

Any organisation can create their own standards of health and safety, and hold their contracted employees to account to any reasonable standards in addition to the legal requirements set out in the country.

This could include using specific equipment, following specific protocols/procedures or using specific service providers.

The most important things to consider with internal standards are that they meet legal requirements, don’t conflict with legal requirements, and that they’re reasonable and written into policy, procedures, or contracts.

An example of this could be requiring lone workers to have lone-worker monitoring devices on their person at all time. To meet legal requirements you could use check-ins, secure working environments or other controls, but as a company you could require monitoring devices.


It is important to understand that compliance with the law, and compliance with agreed standards does not guarantee that nothing will go wrong. There is always more to learn, and always more to do.

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