Ten occupational health and safety milestones that shook the world

Changes aheadSet to become an invaluable resource for students, academics, health and safety professionals and others with a general interest in industrial history, the History of Occupational Safety and Health website sets out developments from the 1802 Factory Act to various regulation changes made by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) last year. Launched on April 28 to coincide with the World Day for Safety and Health at Work, which is also Workers’ Memorial Day, the new site has taken shape over the past three years, in a project led by RoSPA’s National Occupational Safety and Health Committee. Below we have picked out some of the highlights from the colourful history of Occupational Health and Safety…

1802 – Factory Act

This is the first Act of Parliament in the UK intended to protect the welfare of people at work. Towards the end of the 18th century, the increasing pace of industrial revolution and its concentration of labour in factories and mills utilising powered technology had brought with it growing publicity about the conditions of those (in particular children) employed in such establishments. Sir Robert Peel introduced the Bill in 1802, passed the same year with little or no opposition, largely in consequence of the revelations of the abuse of children in textile mills.


1917 – “London Safety First Council” established past, present, future, time concept on blackboard

Initially formed in response to the increasing number of transport deaths, in 1917 the Industrial “Safety First” committee was established. Known as the “London Safety First Council”, their first campaign was to change the pedestrian rule so that walkers faced oncoming traffic. Its formation sowed the seeds of what would eventually become RoSPA – and we’ve been working hard to save lives ever since!


1956 – Agriculture (Safety, Health and Welfare Provisions) Act

This Act introduced comprehensive health protection and safeguards for agricultural workers and for children who may come into contact with agricultural machinery, equipment or vehicles. It prohibited the lifting of excessive weights, outlined the general provisions that must be made for sanitary conveniences and washing facilities and stipulated requirements for first aid provision.


1974 – Health and Safety at Work etc Act

The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 was described as “a bold and far-reaching piece of legislation” by HSE’s first Director General, John Locke. It certainly marked a departure from the framework of prescribed and detailed regulations which was in place at the time. The Act introduced a new system based on less-prescriptive and more goal-based regulations, supported by guidance and codes of practice. For the first time employers and employees were to be consulted and engaged in the process of designing a modern health and safety system.


1975 – Health and Safety Executive formed

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was formed on 1 January 1975 under the leadership of its first Director, John Locke. HSE’s remit was to undertake the requirements of the Health and Safety Commission and to enforce health and safety legislation in all workplaces, except those regulated by Local Authorities.


1985 – Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations

The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1985, commonly known as ‘RIDDOR’, require a ‘responsible person’ to notify the enforcing authority where a person dies or sustains any injuries or specific medical conditions or where a dangerous occurrence takes place in connection with a work activity. The Regulations set out the specific injuries which are reportable including fractures, amputation, decompression sickness and others.


1988 – Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations, generally referred to as the COSHH Regulations, were introduced to protect people from health issues arising from work activities. Under the Regulations, employers must carry out a risk assessment to ensure that employees are not exposed to substances which will be hazardous to their health. Where exposure to such substances cannot be prevented, employers must provide suitable protective equipment and control measures and they must ensure that such equipment is adequately maintained, examined and tested and the results of tests recorded and kept.


1996 – Management of Occupational Road Risk (MORR)

RoSPA began campaigning to promote the Management of Occupational Road Risk (MORR) in the mid 1990s after calculating that using the road was the greatest risk that people faced in the course of their work, and that between a quarter and one third of road crashes involved someone who was at work at the time. Since then RoSPA has worked closely with employers, employment bodies, unions, central and local government, health and safety organisations, the police and others to raise awareness about the risks created and faced by staff when they use the road for work. We have also worked tirelessly to persuade government agencies to include the management of occupational road risk as a fundamental part of health and safety strategies and polices.


2007 – The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act was a landmark in British law, given Royal assent on 26 July 2007. The offense came into force on 6 April 2008 and is called corporate manslaughter in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and corporate homicide in Scotland. For the first time, companies and organisations can be found guilty of corporate manslaughter as a result of serious management failures resulting in a gross breach of a duty of care.


20??- The future

Occupation Safety is a fast changing and forever evolving area, reacting to changes in the technological, industrial and political landscape. While we don’t have a crystal ball, one thing for certain is that RoSPA will be here to help you adapt to those changes, providing you with the very highest standard of workplace safety training to ensure that you and your employees are able to return home to your families at the end of every working day.


To find out more about how RoSPA can keep you safe, please visit our website. You can see the full history of OSH timeline here.

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