The Health and Safety at Work Act is 40 years old this month and this significant milestone has prompted the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) to highlight the considerable advances in British workplace safety that have taken place over that period.
During the past 40 years, the UK has witnessed an 85 per cent reduction in the number of people who lose their lives during work-related activities each year, from 650 per year on average in 1974 to just 133 today.
Furthermore, the number of injuries in British workplaces has also diminished by 77 per cent over the same period – down from 336,701 to 78,222.
It is testament to the hard work and determination of businesses and employees up and down the country that this dramatic fall in fatal accidents has been recorded, but this would have never been possible had this act not been brought into law.
Responding to the announcement, minister of state for health and safety Mark Harper commented: “Our workplace safety record is now the envy of the world, with businesses and governments queuing up to tap into our expertise.”
He added that any death in the workplace is one too many, and thankfully the impact that the Health and Safety at Work Act has had on reducing these tragic events has been outstanding.
The UK is now officially one of the safest countries in the world in which to work – and long may this continue – so Mr Harper noted that while some people might bemoan the sometimes intrusive and troublesome guidelines surrounding issues of workplace safety practices, it is important to remember that these rules save countless lives.
Moreover, 1974 also witnessed the foundation of the HSE itself, with the body playing a crucial role in enforcing and implementing the measures set out in the Health and Safety at Work Act over the proceeding decades.
Chair of the HSE Judith Hackitt stated: “Our health and safety law places responsibility on those who create risk to manage that risk in a proportionate practical way. It sets standards in terms of outcomes to be achieved, not by straitjacketing dutyholders and business into doing things in a particular way according to prescriptive rules.
“This means that it is universally applicable – regardless of whether you’re farming, fracking for shale gas or working with nano-materials in an ultra high-tech laboratory. The Health and Safety at Work Act may be 40 years old but it – and our regulatory system – are world class.”
Overall, 2013 was an extremely positive year for health and safety in the UK, with a record low number of fatalities relating to workplace accidents.
Safety in the workplace is not something employers should become complacent over though, as there are still considerable efforts to be made to make sure the nation’s workers are as safeguarded against harm as they can be.
Indeed, the HSE’s latest statistics revealed a total of 27 million working days were lost in 2011/12 due to workplace injuries or illness, with 175,000 cases of people requiring seven or more days off work due to accidents.
Meanwhile, 1.1 million people continued to suffer long-term ailments due to work-related illnesses. In total, the estimated cost to the economy and society in general stood at £13.8 billion.
The HSE did not sit on its laurels during this period though, as during the 12 months a total of 597 prosecutions of companies and individuals believed to have broken UK health and safety law were brought forward, with 568 convictions achieved (a success rate of 95 per cent).
Moreover, 13,503 notices to improve either working conditions or practices were issued by the HSE or local authorities, highlighting the considerable efforts being gone to by health and safety inspectors up and down the country to uncover risks to employee health.