When it comes to safety in the workplace, what is the difference between code of practice and legislation?

By Jennifer Anderson | Last updated: September 25, 2021

Codes of practice are guidelines and rules that employers are expected to implement in the workplace.

Legislation, on the other hand, refers not to suggestions or recommendations but laws that must be followed.

To really parse the difference between the two, let's look at each separately.

What Is Legislation?

Legislation is enacted by a legislative body and applies to all citizens of the jurisdiction in which it was enacted. Health and safety legislation is geared specifically to protect workers and the public by controlling the risks of injury and illness that could occur in the workplace.

Workplaces and organizations that breach these health and safety standards are liable to prosecution by concerned authorities.

Three agencies of the U.S. Department of Labor are responsible for the administration and enforcement of laws enacted to protect the health and safety of workers:

  • The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA)
  • The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA)
  • The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), overseen and enforced by the Department of Labor

Important Facts About Legislation

According to the International Labor Organization:

  • Legislation provides workers with minimum standards of protection in the workplace.
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sentation">Legislation is only effective in protecting workers when it is supported by government enforcement.
  • Since many governments do not have enough qualified personel to conduct regular inspections in every workplace, workers and unions often fill that role.
  • Legislation applies to all businesses, regardless of its size or number of employees. Self-employed workers and owners also fall under the purview of safety legislation.

    What Is a Code of Practice?

    Codes of practice are guidelines and rules that members of a profession, trade, occupation, organization, or union are expected to adhere to. They do not usually carry the force of legislation and are often rules crafted in response to actual or potential dangers observed on the job.

    Codes of practice provide general guidance to employers and employees on how to comply with the minimum standards and objectives that are detailed in the regulations. These codes can be referred to by inspectors when issuing prohibition notices or any scope for improvement.

    While compliance with these codes is not required by law, courts may nevertheless regard a code of practice as evidence under certain circumstances.

    Importance of Workplace Policies

    Workplace policies are formal procedures instituted by management or owners to safeguard employees, minimize injuries, cut costs related to worker absenteeism, and avoid lawsuits.

    These are clearly written in employee handbooks and typically posted in the workplace. Employees may be required to attend in-service sessions and sign forms stating that they know these policies and have received in-service training.

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