‘It’s a Fair CoP’: Using Approved Codes of Practice to Implement Safety Legislation
Health and safety law is written by lawyers in old-fashioned legal speak. That means it can be difficult for mere mortals to understand what health and safety legislation really means in practice – it needs to be interpreted in order to make much sense of it! Thankfully, you don’t need to interpret it for yourself – here, we use a helpful example to introduce you to the marvellous and weird world of Approved Codes of Practice (ACoPs) and other guidance, which represent the official interpretation of legislation.
Health and safety requirements start with the law. For the purposes of this example, we start with the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, which states (among other things) that employers need to provide a safe and healthy place of work (including entrances and exits); the act also talks about welfare, but not in much detail.
To expand on that detail, a set of regulations (one of many) was made under the authority of this Act – the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. These regulations provide employers with general requirements for ventilation, temperature, lighting and so on. However, although these regulations are far more detailed than the act itself, they still don’t provide too much in the way of specifics.
With temperature, the regulations state that it should be ‘reasonable’ – which can be open to individual interpretation. That’s because the experience of temperature can vary – how warm you feel depends on all sorts of factors. Take a look around any open-plan office and some people will be sitting in shirt sleeves while others are wearing duffle coats to keep themselves warm. The same temperature can feel different to different people – it’s a subjective experience.
To further understand the original legislation, you can then turn to the ACoP that accompanies the regulations. The ACoP explains how to meet the requirements of the regulations and gives a clearer indication of what’s expected. So, you need to meet the requirements of the relevant ACoP or do something that is seen to be equivalent to show that you’ve met the legal standards. For temperature in an indoor workplace, for example, the ACoP states that it should normally be at least 16 degrees Celsius (if you’re sitting quietly) or 13 degrees Celsius (if you’re more active).
Sometimes the HSE publishes guidance in addition to, or even instead of, an ACoP. These guidance documents are usually rather easier to read, succinct, and more practically orientated. For temperature, the guidance document looks at thermal comfort and how best to achieve it. You don’t have to follow this; it’s there to guide you and give you practical advice on hazards in the workplace.