The Health &Safety at Work Act 1974 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.
Why was the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 required?
Before the ntroduction of the Health and Safety Act 1974, 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 single fundamental act that addressed issues of workplace safety.
Key issues of workplace safety had long been a concern for the government; fatal injuries were increasing as technology moved forward, but it was obvious that employee training and safety provisions had not. With increases in workplace accidents and risks becoming ever more prevalent, it was obvious something needed to be done.
Over in America,the Occupational Safety and Health Act had been passed in 1970 which encompassed workplace safety for employees. This Act 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 for an enquiry committee in 1970 as to how this could be addressed. This led to the ‘Robens Report’, proposed by Lord Robens, which ultimately the formation of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
Who was Lord Robens?
Lord Robens, a.k.a. The Lord Robens of Woldingham, was a Labour politician who had previously held a number of key positions in the UK government, including Shadow Foreign Secretary and Minister of Labour & National Service.
He took up the chairmanship of the National Coal Board in 1961 and championed campaigns to reduce accidents and illnesses in the coal industry. During his time at the NCB he was selected by Barbara Castle, then Labour Secretary of State for Health and Social Services, to chair a committee focused on workplace health and safety,leading to the ‘Robens Report’ which was published in 1972 and met with controversy following his idea of self-regulation by employers to health and safety practices. Nonetheless, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 was introduced 2 years later, as well as the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
Introduction in 1974
When the Act first commenced, it was applicable only in England, Wales, Scotland (in part) and NI (in part). The provisions for Northern Ireland were further reviewed again in 1978 and the Health and Safety Agency for Northern Ireland(now The Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI)) were given responsibility to enforce the Act.
By 1995, it had become apparent the offshore provisions also needed to be covered by the Act; this was extended by Order in Council to include wells,pipelines, certain engineering activities and offshore installations in UK territorial waters, and mines that extend into territorial waters.
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 (HSC) was originally formed 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 Health& Safety Executive (HSE) was originally formed off the back of the HSC to undertake and enforce the requirements of the HSC.
The two merged in 2008 to become simply, the HSE (which still stands for the Health and Safety Executive).
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.
Performance of HASAW since 1974
In 2008 the Act was reviewed by Labour’s Chief Whip Lord Grocott; “between 1974 and 2007, the number of fatal injuries to employees fell by 73 per cent; the number of reported non-fatal injuries fell by 70 per cent. Between 1974 and 2007, the rate of injuries per 100,000 employees fell by a huge 76 per cent, and Britain had the lowest rate of fatal injuries in the European Union in 2003, which is the most recent year for which figures are available. The EU average was 2.5 fatalities per 100,000 workers; the figure in the UK was 1.1.”
In 2015 the stats were reviewed again by the HSE. It was found that, since 1974:
· Non-fatal injuries had fallen by 77%
Fatal injuries had fallen by 86%
Asbestos related deaths have increased year on year; this is seen to be due to asbestos exposure prior to 1980 when the asbestos prohibition laws started to come into effect.
The stats were reviewed again in 2018. At this point, it could be seen that workplace accidents and injuries had continued to fall:
· Deaths related to mesothelioma had remained broadly flat over the past 5 years (rises in the past decades expected due to past exposure pre-1980).
· Musculoskeletal disorders are estimated to be 50% lower than in 1990
· Estimated 85% reduction in fatal injuries since 1974
· Estimated 50% reduction in non-fatal injuries since 2000/01
July 31st,1974 - The date when the Health & Safety Commission (HSC) was formed in conjunction with Royal Assent being granted for the Health and Safety at Worketc 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.
October 1,1974 - The commencement of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, an Act thathad been introduced 7 months earlier by the-then Secretary of State for Employment, Michael Foot and granted Royal Assent in the July.
January 1, 1975 – The formation of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE); 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).
April 1, 2008 - HSC & HSE merged to become one national body (HSE).
· Health & Safetyat Work Full Act
· HSE stats on trendsin work-related ill health and workplace injury 2018
· Health& Safety in the Workplace courses
· NEBOSH courses in health and safety