The UK has an enviable history of health and safety provisions to protect the health and welfare of workers. In this article we look at the history of health and safety in the country by setting out some of the most significant developments over almost two hundred years.
Formation of HM Factory Inspectorate – 1833
The first major Health and Safety innovation arose from the Factories Act 1933, with the formation of HM Factory Inspectorate. Its initial goal was the protection of child textile workers but this soon developed into a more general responsibility to make sure that the provisions of the Factories Act were enforced and to influence subsequent legislative measures.
Formation of the Mines Inspectorate – 1843
In 1842, a Royal Commission, set up two years previously to investigate working conditions in the mining industry, published its findings. These were so shocking that a new piece of legislation, in the form of the Mines Act 1842, was made law. This resulted in the appointment of one mining inspector, although the powers of the inspectorate were quite limited until 1850, when the inspectors were first given powers of entry and inspection.
Formation of the Quarry Inspectorate – 1895
The Quarries Act 1894 gave quarry inspectors the right to enforce the notification of accidents, prosecute and introduce special rules to quarries that came under their jurisdiction.
Agriculture (Safety, Health and Welfare Provisions) Act – 1956
This was the first piece of major health and safety legislation for the protection of the welfare of agricultural workers and resulted in the appointment of inspectors who had powers of entry and enforcement of the act’s health protection and safeguards.
Nuclear Installations Act – 1959
This act was brought into force following an incident at the Wind scale nuclear plant. It was instrumental in the formation of the Inspectorate of Nuclear Installations (now the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate) which has a wide range of responsibilities within the nuclear industry.
Health and Safety at Work etc Act – 1974
A major piece of legislation, the Health and Safety at Work etc Act not only introduced a simplified set of health and safety regulations, it also established the Health and Safety Commission
Establishment of the Health and Safety Commission – 1974
The HSC was formed when the Health and Safety at Work etc Act came into force. It was given wide-ranging responsibilities including providing directions to the Health and Safety Executive and taking the necessary steps to protect the health and welfare of workers.
Formation of the Health and Safety Executive
The main responsibilities of the HSE were to implement the requirements of the HSC and ensure that health and safety legislation was enforced in the workplaces it regulated. It also undertook a wide-scale reorganisation of the Factory Inspectorate.
Since the mid-1970s there has been considerable further Health and Safety legislation, including the Asbestos (Licensing) Regulations 1983, the Control of Industrial Major Accident Hazard Regulations 1984, the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 1987, the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989, the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992, The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992, the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 and many more.
The regulation of health and safety was made more unified by the merger, in 2008, of the Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety Executive. Operating as the new Health and Safety Executive, it exercises the merged functions of its two predecessors, supporting the continued safeguarding of the health and safety of workers in the UK that has been in existence for approaching two hundred years.
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