Marking the Anniversary of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 – fatal and major injuries at work dramatically reduced over past 40 years

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act receiving royal assent. The British Safety Council joins with many other organisations in placing on record our appreciation of this ground breaking legislation in helping to improve the regulation and management of workplace Health & Safety. 

The headline of the September 1974 edition of the British Safety Council’s then monthly publication, Safety and Rescue, read: “Work safety: A new era begins”. The evidence since then does indeed support this headline. The dramatic reduction in workplace injuries and ill health over the last 40 years is attributable to the creation of an independent and unified regulator, HSE, the duty placed on all employers to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all of their employees and the active involvement of employers and trade unions. This important legacy of the 1974 Act is still going strong 40 years later.

Alex Botha, Chief Executive of the British Safety Council, speaking of the improvements embedded in the 1974 Act’s approach over the years, commented: “This approach has been successful – we have seen an 80% plus reduction in fatal injuries in our workplaces. At the heart of the 1974 Act is the principle that those who create the risk of injury and ill health in the workplace must manage the risks. The 1974 legislation has attracted admiration and emulation across the globe and provided the model for many other regulators.”

He added: “Going forward we need a legal framework that is flexible and one that can adapt to changing risks. We cannot stand still. There remains so much to do including tackling the thorny issues around health and wellbeing – the sometimes forgotten part of the health and safety equation. The British Safety Council and its members are confident that the 1974 Act can continue to play a role in meeting present and future challenges.”

To Lawrence Waterman OBE, Trustee of the British Safety Council and Director of Health and Safety at Battersea Power Station, the 1974 Act ushered in a new era: “With employers taking responsibility and later regulations embedding both worker engagement and risk assessment. This approach has been successful, driving down accident rates and encouraging the mind-set of zero harm.” 

Lawrence echoed the importance of not overlooking health issues: “About 10 times as many workers are damaged and their lives shortened by exposure to health risks than in accidents. Despite this, for too long we have shouted safety but whispered health. Now health is coming into focus, action is being taken and the necessary changes are starting to happen.  If health and safety is seen as a mark of civilized values and community benefit, despite the current fashion for deregulation, we can look forward to the next 40 years with confidence.”            

40 years of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act – special feature
Safety Management, the magazine of the British Safety Council, has run a special feature on the impact and future of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 40 years after it came into force. It can be found at: https://sm.britsafe.org/hswa-40-act-changed-our-working-lives

Further information on the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 can be found at: http://www.hse.gov.uk/aboutus/40/

About the British Safety Council
For more than half a century we’ve been a trusted guide to excellent health, safety and environmental management. We have educated millions of workers and made hundreds of thousands of workplaces safer for everyone. We do this by sharing information, supporting, advising, educating and campaigning. We are not-for-profit.

We have set out the five steps and the supporting actions we believe are essential to ensure healthy and safe work activities in our manifesto Working Well – see: www.britsafe.org/manifesto

For further information about the British Safety Council go to www.britsafe.org

Author: British Safety Council

The content of this article represents the personal views of the author and nothing is to be taken as representing the views, opinions, policy or position of any other persons or organisations mentioned herein or of The Institute of Demolition Engineers.