HSE guidelines

The term “HSE guidelines” is thrown around a lot. However, this is a problem, because the term is actually quite misleading.

HSE guidelines are leaflets and documents issued by the Health & Safety Executive which offer best practice guidance on a variety of public safety issues. These guidelines — much like HSE itself — are often misunderstood. Most of the time, this is through negative stories about “health and safety gone mad”. However, on occasion, HSE is misunderstood by people who respect HSE immensely.

Defining HSE Guidelines

By “HSE guidelines”, most people mean guides like INDG45 on the safe use of ladders and step ladders. This leaflet offers helpful and practical insight into how someone can manage ladders and step ladders in their workplace. The leaflets are a great example of best practice and you know that it’s advice you can trust, because it’s from the government.

However, these leaflets are not legally binding.

HSE Guidelines Are Not The Law

This might not seem correct, but it is. The idea that HSE’s guidelines are the law is a common overestimation made by people who respect HSE’s advice.

The confusion stems from the fact that HSE is the government organisation responsible for public health and safety. As such, it would make sense that its guidelines are the law. This logic is sound, but it’s not correct.

It can also be confusing because HSE does write laws. The decisions the organisation makes on public safety can affect some pieces of legislation and HSE can help to create other pieces of legislation from scratch. So, if this organisation has the power to make laws, why aren’t its guidelines the law?

HSE Offers Practical Advice And Legal Advice

At the start of many HSE guidelines, you’ll often see this caveat:

This guidance is issued by the Health and Safety Executive. Following the guidance is not compulsory and you are free to take other action. But if you do follow the guidance you will normally be doing enough to comply with the law.

HSE guidelines aren’t the law itself because its guidelines are designed to be read by employees and employers with no legal expertise. Legal documents are often dense things written in legalese. Legislation is written this way so that it can’t be bent in some way to mean something else — as much as lawyers might try. The downside to this, though, is that this language can be hard to interpret. As such, HSE ‘translates’ this language into its guidelines.

A legal document is not designed to advise. It’s designed to outline bare minimum requirements. By contrast, HSE guidelines offer helpful advice which is designed to be read by employers in order for them to exercise best practice.

When HSE Offers Legal Advice, It’s Explicit

HSE guidelines aren’t the law, but they do sometimes refer to the law. When HSE guidelines do this, though, it is explicit. HSE’s INDG225 on slips, trips and falls makes clear reference to what three different laws say at the beginning guide. It unambiguously tells you what the law is and what the law says. However, the guideline is not the law itself. Rather, the actual legislation can be found here, here, and here.

When you to try to read the actual legislation, you quickly understand why INDG225 breaks down the relevant pieces of this legislation with regards to slips, trips and falls. To give just one example, Section 5 of The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 contains sage advice like this:

Every employer shall make and give effect to such arrangements as are appropriate having regard to the nature of his activities and the size of his undertaking, for the effective planning, organisation, control, monitoring and review of the preventive and protective measures.

If you fell asleep trying to read that sentence, take pity on the hard-working people at HSE who had to go through legislation like this in order to find the practical pieces of advice most relevant in certain situations. Distraction is the enemy of safety, and HSE knows that it’s easy to get distracted when reading pages of impenetrable legal jargon. It’s because of this reason that HSE guidelines exist.

In HSG76, one HSE guideline is that warehouses should be inspected by a SEMA approved racking inspector at least once every 12 months. This advice isn’t the law, but it is consistent with the law.

So, for racking inspections by SEMA Approved inspectors that consistent with HSE guidelines, contact Storage Equipment Experts today.

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