The Health and Safety Commission was formed 40 years ago. They set goals for protecting the workers of Britain, challenging themselves to create a better working country. Reflecting on the last 40 years, many of the goals remain the same, continuing to push the standards of working life, while working with employers and organisations.
Today, Britain is one of Europe’s leading countries in workplace safety. However, 200 years ago, the UK looked very different. We may have been at the height of the industrial revolution, but working conditions were poor at best. Public outcry forced the hand of the government when reports of injuries, brutality and deaths came out, creating firstly the Factories Act and later the Mines Act. These acts were the first breath of a life of health and safety regulation that would go on changing lives for the next 150 years and more.
To start with there were only four safety inspectors, whose jobs spanned over 3000 textile mills, but more were to come and by 1868, 35 inspectors, each with their own geographical area, took on the task of protecting factory workers. From the initial Acts protecting factories and mines, later came Acts for agriculture, quarries and nuclear plants. In 1974 the Health and Safety at Work Act came into place, covering all workplaces, and all employees.
From here specific regulations came into place, helping employers to understand what to do in various situations, for example, the Control of Hazardous Substances, Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations and the Control of Lead at Work Regulations.
Throughout the past 40 years, since the first health and safety reports were published, the changes have been dramatic. Non-fatal injuries at work have dropped by 77%, a brilliant improvement in working conditions. Fatal injuries in the workplace have fallen by 85% from 1974 to 2013, a massive drop, and a huge influence on the lives of not only workers, but their families and loved ones.
Along with these physical results, it is clear that public attitude towards workplace safety have changed. In the past, employees tended to accept injuries and disasters, whereas today there is a demand for accountability, and a desire for risk assessments and control.
The awareness of occupational health has risen massively in the past few years. In the past occupational health predominantly focused on the exposure of hazardous substances. However, other health problems such as stress and musculoskeletal disorders make up over half of occupation health complaints. Despite the awareness of these risks, in 2004 the amount of people suffering from ill health because of their work had doubled.
With more awareness and knowledge of these issues, the employers and employees of Britain will play a big part in reducing these figures.
Many of the goals created in the first meeting of the Health and Safety Commission, 40 years ago, have remained the same even to this day. Although massive changes and breakthroughs have taken place, the future still holds many challenges and room to improve.
The demand for more safety keeps employers and organisations on their toes, creating a working Britain to be proud of. Looking towards the future, one of the greatest challenges in regulating health and safety is the constant changes in technology.
As science and technology take giant leaps, the risks and dangers do too. Health and Safety organisations therefore have to keep up in order to protect the British workplace. Given the rapid changes over the last 40 years, it looks extremely likely that this rate of change will continue over at least the next 40 years.
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