Commencement of H&S at Work Act 1974
October 1, 1974 saw the commencement of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, an Act that had been introduced 7 months earlier by the then Secretary of State for Employment, Michael Foot and granted Royal Assent in the July.
Why was this required?
Prior to the Act, fundamental issues of workplace safety had long been a concern for the government; despite various Bills and Acts introduced to moderate specific areas, no one single Act or Bill addressed the fundamental issues of health and safety in the workplace. Fatal injuries were increasing as technology moved forward, but it was obvious that employee training and safety provisions had not.
In 1971, the US passed the Occupational Health and Safety Act 1971, and it was at this point Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson knew something similar had to happen in the UK. This led to the 1972 Robens Report, chaired by Lord Roben, although by this time the Conservatives had come to power with Edward Heath at the helm.
The Robens Report was seen to be controversial; it proposed that employers should self-regulate workplace health and safety. However, it was the basis of this report which eventually led to the creation of not on the H&S at Work Act 1974, but also the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). In Feb 1974, Labour returned to power and returning PM Harold Wilson was in power at the time the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 finally came to fruition.
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.
Performance 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.