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Consultation on proposals to review HSE's Approved Codes of Practice

The role and status of ACOPs and how they are used in combination with other guidance to help organisations comply with health and safety law

6. ACOPs provide practical guidance on complying with the general duties of HSWA or the requirements of goal-setting regulations.  They are important tools for experienced health and safety audiences that explain the law and enable the control of more complex risks.  They can also provide certainty for dutyholders by setting out preferred methods or standards to achieve compliance and by clarifying what is required by terms such as suitable, sufficient or adequate.  ACOPs have mainly been made available for high risk activities where some precision is required in the approach to controlling the risks. 

7. ACOPs are not law but do have a special legal status; if the advice in ACOP material is followed in relevant circumstances duty holders can be confident they are complying with the law.  This is made clear in the front of each ACOP document by a statement that those who comply with the ACOP material will have done enough to comply with the law on the specific issues addressed by the ACOP. 

8. Dutyholders may use alternative methods to those set out in an ACOP to comply with the law and this is also stated at the front of each ACOP.  However, if the dutyholder is prosecuted for a breach of health and safety law, and it is proved that they have not followed the relevant provisions of the ACOP, then that element of the offence will be taken as proved unless they can show the court that they have complied with the law in some other way.

9. An ACOP can be an appropriate format for providing advice where:

  • there are certain preferred or recommended methods to be used (or standards to be met) to achieve compliance; and,
  • the nature of the issue being addressed is such that in most cases dutyholders should be strongly encouraged to pursue those methods (or standards).

10. Guidance material also helps dutyholders comply with the law but differs from the authoritative advice of an ACOP by allowing dutyholders wider discretion to identify the options that are the best fit for their circumstances.

11. HSE makes advice on compliance available in a range of formats to assist different user audiences, from basic guidance for low-risk environments or inexperienced users, such as Health and Safety Made Simple, through to more detailed guidance such as ACOPs.  HSE is currently reviewing its guidance and presenting it to users in increasing levels of detail and specificity, allowing them to decide when they have obtained the ‘right’ level of information for their circumstances.  These levels of guidance are arranged as follows:

  • Level 1 – Health and Safety Made Simple and the revised Essentials of Health and Safety
  • Level 2 – The ‘brief guide to…’ hazard based leaflets which explain risks in more detail and provide information on effective control
  • Level 3 – Guidance which goes into more detail and often includes case studies.  This includes:

a)     Industry Guidance (INDGs) which are industry or topic based guidance leaflets aimed at employers and workers.

b)     Health and Safety Guidance (HSGs) which provide more comprehensive, detailed advice often including case studies and can be either topic or sector based.

  • Level 4 – Legal series guidance which present regulations, ACOP advice and guidance

12. The review of HSE guidance aims to make sure that HSE’s portfolio of guidance is practical and proportionate; making it easier for employers to understand and therefore meet their legal obligations.