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The Health and Safety at Work Act turns 40!

Here at Lance Mason, a team member turns 30 today, or if you ask her 29+1. We all know that landmark birthdays are not always a welcome event but the 40th anniversary of this Act should be celebrated, congratulated and publicised as much as possible.

The Act received the Royal Assent on 31 July 1974 and despite all the criticism and media hype of a compensation culture as a result of this legislation, the Health and Safety at Work Act has changed our lives immeasurably for the better. 

Before the Act came into being, fatalities to employees covered by the legislation then in place stood at 651. Hundreds of thousands of people were being injured. But last year, as reported in the Telegraph[1], the number of fatalities at work was down to 148 and non-fatal injuries have dropped by more than 75 per cent. This is a result of the Act.

Employers: They have a duty for all employers

The Act places a duty on all employers 'to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work' of all their employees. Among its provisions, the Act requires employers to ensure the safe operation and maintenance of the working environment, plant and systems; the maintenance of safe access and egress to the workplace; the safe use, handling and storage of dangerous substances; that there is adequate training of staff to ensure health and safety; and that there is adequate welfare provision for staff at work. Safety procedures must be displayed for all to see, proper training given, adequate protective clothing worn and risk assessments made. All risks must be controlled and monitored. 

All this is profoundly sensible. Thanks to the law putting these duties on employers it is likely that the Act has reduced deaths by 5,000 or more.

Creation of the Act 

The Act came about as the result of the recommendations of the Robens Committee, which reported in 1972. It concluded that the existing workplace safety legislation was too complicated and confusing, with about 30 Acts and 500 sets of regulations. Lord Robens proposed a simplified structure, the primary intention of which was to ensure that the highest standards of health and safety at work were met.

It is now 40 years old and we should celebrate not criticise and slay the Act[2]

Health and Safety Executive

Health and Safety Executive Chair Judith Hackitt summed up the effect of the Act perfectly[3]: -

"This year will mark 40 years since Health and Safety at Work Act received Royal Assent. Arguably it is one of the best pieces of legislation on the statute books - although we know it is often misunderstood and misinterpreted. It has protected millions of British workers, and driven sharp reductions in incidents of occupational death, serious injury and ill health."


By: Lesley Layton