The law, legislation, ACoPs and standards

What are the different types of law, and how are our industry standards developed? Gas Safe Register Standards Manager John Stirling has the lowdown.

This article was published in full in Registered Gas Engineer’s March 2021 issue. 

Gas Safe Register frequently receives calls about the hierarchy of industry standards and how they should be applied. It’s important to note that Gas Safe Register neither creates nor enforces the standards.

There are two types of law that create the framework for the regulation of health and safety: criminal and civil law. A simple workplace accident can result in both types of legal action.

The table below summarises the two types of law and highlights some of the significant differences.

Sources of law

There are two sources that are relevant to the legal systems outlined above: Statute law and Common law.

Statute law is made by Parliament and exists in the form of Acts, Regulations and orders.

Common law is made by judges through the decisions they make and the precedents that these rulings set. You may have heard this referred to as the law of the land and it’s established by custom and practice.

Statute laws, when introduced by the state, will mean that those who do not comply can be prosecuted by the state through criminal courts.

Modern Acts of Parliament set out principles or objectives and use specific Regulations or Orders to implement them.

The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HSWA) is probably the most important piece of statute law, relating to health and safety in the workplace.

Acts of Parliament (HSWA, for example) are ‘enabling Acts’, which means that they allow for the creation of health and safety regulations such as The Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998. Regulations made under an Act of Parliament are secondary, delegated legislation.

Approved Codes of Practice (ACoPs) often accompany regulations and supplement statutory legislation such as Acts and Regulations.

ACoPs give expert interpretation on how to achieve the legal standard as outlined in the regulation that they accompany, and will usually give a clear indication of what is expected. Failure to comply with an ACoP is not in itself an offence. But if an ACoP has not been complied with, then it must be shown that alternative methods were used to achieve at least the same standard as the ACOP.

Guidance such as Standard Documents and Technical Bulletins have no legal force but can be considered as best practice and can also be used to interpret legal standards. This tier of documents includes the gas industry standards. They are known as Normative Documents and are referred to as the Gas Industry Standards. These documents, in conjunction with any available manufacturer’s instructions, will be used by Gas Safe Register to assess compliance.

Common law

Common law is not recorded in the form of Acts and Regulations. Instead it is created when a precedent has been set by previous court cases. Where the judge of a court case has made a reasoned decision, the reasoned decision sets a precedent that will influence the decision-making of judges in the future. Common law relies heavily on the principle of judicial precedence; the idea that judges in courts have to take note and follow the precedents set by a higher court.

Gas industry standard development

It is a common misconception that normative documents such as the gas industry standards are developed and published by Gas Safe Register. This is NOT the case.

The gas industry standards used by Gas Safe Register are developed by the three current Standard Setting Bodies:

  • British and European Standards (BSI)
  • Institution of Gas Engineers and Managers (IGEM)
  • Liquid Gas UK (formerly known as UKLPG).

The development, review and publication of these standards is managed by the Standard Setting Body. The body is supported by committees made up of volunteer gas professionals, who have a broad range of knowledge, expertise and industry experience.

Various technical committees guide and advise on the development of new standards and, where required, the review of existing standards. They are usually reviewed and amended only where changes and developments in the industry need to be addressed.

Gas Safe Register supports both industry and the HSE by being involved in various technical committees, but questions relating to any of the standards in use should be directed to the relevant chair of the committee for a response.

Inspections undertaken by Gas Safe Register

When Gas Safe Register inspects work undertaken by registered gas businesses in Great Britain, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and Guernsey, in the first instance it will assess against the manufacturer’s installation instructions. Where these are not available or relevant, it will inspect against the criteria as specified within legislative documents and relevant gas industry standards.

There will be some differences in application because of the differences in the individual legislation in different geographical areas. Due regard will be taken of the requirements of all appropriate guidance while conducting inspections.


Getting involved in standard development

If you think your knowledge and experience could benefit a technical committee, your involvement would definitely be valued and you can contact the relevant Standard Setting Body.

If you can’t be involved on a technical committee, you can still comment on draft standards. Before standards are published, they are always put forward for public and industry comment. It’s at this stage where most registered businesses can give their opinion as to whether they agree with a clause, and make suggestions.

Gas Safe Register endeavours to keep the industry informed of the status of standards via the Legislative, Normative, and Informative Documents List (LNIDL). This document is reviewed quarterly and published in Registered Gas Engineer and in your Gas Safe online account.

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