Health and Safety at Work Act celebrates 40 years

2014 is the 40th anniversary of the Health and Safety at Work Act, the often misinterpreted legislation which protects millions of employees and the public in the workplace.

By Aegis.

By giving people a legal right to be kept safe from work related risks, the Act has arguably saved more lives than any other legislation, including the ban on drink driving and the compulsory wearing of seat belts in cars.

Since 2008, average fines for contravening health and safety regulations have risen by 60%, highlighting that no-one should expect to get off lightly if caught breaching the law.

Before the Act was implemented in 1974, around 700 employees were dying every year and hundreds of thousands were being injured. In 2013 the number of deaths had dropped to 133. Although this improvement is partly due to the fall in manufacturing and mining in Great Britain in the last forty years, the Act has still made a significant contribution to better risk management.

The new build for the 2012 Olympics was the first ever to be delivered without a fatality and shows how far we have come since 1974. Even for those who balk at excessive regulation, this is a significant achievement when compared with Qatar, where, since 2012, hundreds of migrant workers have died from unexplained sudden illness on construction sites whilst building the infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup.

The Act also led to the setting up of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), whose responsibility it is to enforce the laws.

Whilst its role is unchanged, the HSE has been focusing increasingly on health issues. It is estimated that for every worker killed in a workplace accident, at least 20 are dying prematurely from asbestos-related diseases, including plumbers and electricians whose exposure to asbestos is incidental to their main work.

A recent HSE campaign underlined the risks that tradespeople face from asbestos after a survey found that only 30% of those asked were able to identify the correct measures for safe asbestos working. The Act is a piece of legislation that deserves a 40th anniversary celebration. It has achieved what it set out to do, which is to insist upon high standards of health and safety in places of work.