1974; A Key Year for Health & Safety
July 31st, 1974 was a huge date for HSE as this marked the date when the Health & Safety Commission (HSC) was formed in conjunction with Royal Assent being granted for the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. This act laid out the initial responsibilities for the HSC, with particular emphasis on key health and safety hazards at that time, including asbestos (which had recently become a concern and the use of asbestos sprayed coating actually stopped in 1974), genetic manipulation, ionising radiation, construction and lead.
The formation of the HSC further led to the formation of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in January 1975; the remit of the HSE was (and is) to undertake the HSC requirements and enforce appropriate legislation in all workplaces where applicable (those regulated by Local Authorities were exempt).
Why was the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974 required?
This is the main piece of health and safety legislation in the UK, applicable to all sectors and often referred to as HSW or the HASAW Act. Before this, various Bills were in place to protect the rights of UK employees (such as the 1970 Employed Persons (Health & Safety) Bill), but there was no one fundamental act that addressed issues of workplace safety.
Over in the US, the Occupational Safety and Health Act had been passed in 1970 which encompassed workplace safety for employees and had led to the creation of both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH). Clearly this was important in America and as such, the current Prime Minister, Harold Wilson gave instruction to Lord Robens to chair an enquiry committee in 1970 into how this could be addressed. This led to the Robens Report, which was published in 1972, and ultimately the formation of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
What does the Act cover?
The overall purpose for HASAW is to oversee the management of health and safety at work, encompassing a wide range of sectors and workplaces. Since its formation, there have been various amendments as new technologies and industries have formed, as well as the formation of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, which exist to reinforce the duties and obligations placed onto employers via HASAW.
Employers under HASAW have a duty "to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work" of all their employees. This includes providing a safe working environment, provisions for the safe use, handling and storage of dangerous substances, welfare provisions of employees, training for staff and maintenance of equipment and tools within the working environment.
Where do the HSC & HSE come in?
The Health and Safety Commission existed to assist all employers with their duties under the HASAW Act, including research, collaboration and training where necessary. They were also to propose Regulations where they deemed necessary and not covered under existing legislation.
The HSE was originally formed off the back of the HSC to undertake and enforce the requirements of the HSC.
In 2008, HSC & HSE merged to become one national body (HSE).
The HSE in its current formation encourage, regulate and enforce all aspects of workplace health and safety, including the welfare of workers, and also research the threat of new occupational risks in Britain. Should such risks be identified with the rise of new technologies and leaps in technology, the HSE will advise on new legislation.
HSE are also the investigating body for industrial accidents.