Friday, 18 July 2014

Marking 40 Years of the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Forty years ago this July, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 was introduced to the British workforce. It seems almost impossible now, that so recently employees were not legally protected from risks in their workplace by regulations and guidelines. Instead, before the introduction of the Act ,companies either had their own collection of internal rules, or no regulations at all.

A study conducted in 1972 - the Robens report - found an urgent need for change in the way workplace safety was regulated. Out of this came two main points: That there was a need for a move to a fundamental regime that offered a code of practice and guidelines which were to be used by all businesses and all workplaces. Secondly, and importantly, it was recognised that the regulations should be managed by the people who best knew the risks of their workplaces, the employers. The idea being that, 'those who create risk are best placed to manage it'. The issue of risk was central to this new approach, the risk assessment became king. The requirement was put on companies to assess the risks in their work places and processes and implement relevant measures to reduce the risks as far as viably possible. 

Looking at the figures, it is clear that the Act has had an enormous impact on workplace safety. Forty years ago fatalities to employees stood at 651 (the actual figure is probably even greater as this only counts employees covered by legislation then in place). The figures for 2012/ 13 had fallen to 148 (employees and self employed combined). Since the introduction of the Act, non fatal accidents have dropped by 75%. 

Often denounced as 'health and safety nonsense' or misused as an excuse to refuse certain services, these numbers show that, when used sensibly, in it's initial and well intentioned spirit, it is critically important to all of us.  

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