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Monday, July 15, 2024

How has health and safety improved over the years? 


Today, the concept of health and safety is an accepted part of the UK workplace. Without it, workers would not be entirely safe from dangerous conditions that could have life-changing impacts on their health, and businesses would be less productive and less profitable, due to the impact of worker illness.

It’s for these reasons that site safety should be at the forefront of any business. With site safety equipment available from online suppliers such as RS, whether you’re business is construction, automotive or office based, it is imperative that you have the right safety in place. But what is the current state of safety? And how has it improved since the concept first started making headway in the workplace?

The current state of site safety

In 2020/21, figures from the Health and Safety Executive showed that there were 142 workers killed in work accidents, with the rate of fatal injury per 100,000 workers at 0.43. In terms of non-fatal injuries, 65,427 were reported in 2019/20, the most recent period for which statistics are available.

These may seem like tall figures, but to put them into context, we need to look back into history to see what health and safety used to be like.

The general state of historical site safety

While workers have long been at the mercy of dangerous workplaces and unscrupulous employers, it’s during the industrial revolution that we see site safety slowly taking hold.

In the UK, working conditions during this time were extremely hazardous. Children were employed to reach underneath machinery, which would routinely kill or maim them. Workers developed illnesses such as phossy jaw (necrosis of the jawbone caused by the inhalation of phosphorous) or lung cancer from pottery dust inhalation. And extreme hours meant any worker could fall prey to an accident brought on by tiredness.

Public anger with these conditions slowly led to the introduction of legislation against poor working conditions. First, the Factory Act of 1802 slightly limited the use of child labour in textile mills. In 1833, this was extended to all children, and factory inspectors were introduced to interview workers and inform policy.

The employer ‘duty of care’ came into being in 1837 due to a landmark legal case, and throughout the rest of the 1800s, incremental safety regulations began making workers’ lives consistently better and less dangerous – in part due to the fact workers could now take their employers to court.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974

Modern health and safety regulation owes itself to the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, however. This act put the onus of site safety on both employers and their employees, in order to protect employees and the public. It features a large focus on evaluating the challenges specific to each workplace, thus creating tailored solutions to keep people safe.

The result of the act has been stark. In 1974, Statista figures show that 651 people were injured fatally at work. In 2021, that had fallen to 142, and the numbers continue to track downwards – something we can all be glad to see.





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