The evolution of health & safety legislation
Since the evolution of man, people have been injured, maimed and killed during the course of their work – from the early cavemen era whilst carrying out roles as hunters, to the modern day.
The health and safety profile relating to customers, employees, suppliers and neighbourhood communities is now much higher than ever before.
More educated companies and buyers recognise the benefits that can be gained from a genuine Corporate and Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy, whilst the less informed may try to pretend it isn’t an issue for them. Naive employers may choose to think that ‘what the eye doesn’t see the heart doesn’t grieve about’, and that if they deny any involvement they won’t be culpable or face any fines. However, the noose is tightening, and endorsing bad safety practice is now being scorned by many as being as anti-social as drink-driving.
The earliest known examples of legislative implementation relating to the encouragement of people to work safer date back to 1780 BC. Whilst hundreds of laws and acts have been passed since, the ones that may be of most interest to those browsing this website are as follows:
The Hammurabi Codex (a code of law) was carved on a black stone monument 8 feet high on public display in ancient Babylon in Mesopotamia. It included these laws:
‘If a builder built a house for someone, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built falls in and kills its owner, then that builder shall be put to death’ [Law 229]
‘If it kills the son of the owner, the son of that builder shall be put to death’ [Law 230]
‘If it kills a slave of the owner, then he shall pay for a slave to the owner of the house’ [Law 231]
‘If it ruins goods, he shall make compensation for all that has been ruined, and inasmuch as he did not construct properly this house which he built and it fell, he shall re-erect the house from his own means’ [Law 232]
The Factory Act prohibited children under nine years of age from working in factories (silk mills were exempted). Children under 13 were to work no more than nine hours per day and 48 hours per week. Two eight hour shifts per day of children were allowed. Four factory inspectors were appointed to cover the whole country and had the power to investigate accidents and to prosecute factory and mill owners.
1864 – An act of Parliament was finally approved by the House of Lords to outlaw the use of children in chimney sweeping.
Prior to this law being passed, children between the ages of 5-10 were used to climb inside chimneys to clean out deposits of soot. If children were hesitant, lighted straw was held beneath their feet or pins were stuck into them to make them climb.
The health implications of chimney sweeping during this time included twisted spines and kneecaps, deformed ankles, eye inflammations and respiratory illnesses. Many children were also maimed or killed after falling or being badly burned, while others suffocated when they became trapped in the curves of the chimneys.
The Factories and Workshop Act gave the Secretary of State the power to make industry specific regulations. This legislation separated parliament from having to set the day-to-day safety regulations, a process which remains in place today. The Act specifically addressed health and safety requirements, hours of work, employment of children, meal breaks and fire escapes.
The Health and Safety at Work etc Act was introduced, providing “umbrella” legislation for the protection of virtually all workers in Great Britain. The Act, to this day, is still the benchmark legislation which leads to the most prosecutions in the working environment.
The Electricity at Work Regulations – relate to the testing, inspection and maintenance of all electrical items and installations in the workplace. It is worth noting that despite this legislation, in 2007/8 there were still 8 fatalities and 82 work related major injuries (23 of which were in the construction industry) across all industries in the UK.
For further accident statistics please visit HSE
Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations covers all equipment (including clothing provided for protection against adverse weather) and states that employers must carry out a risk assessmentDocument assessing risks and documenting control measures needed to do a task. to ensure that equipment is suitable. It also states that equipment must be issued to employees at the employer’s expense.
The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations gives legislative guidance on all work related equipment, from mobile scaffold towers to power drills.
The Lifting Equipment and Lifting Operations Regulations enforces risk assessments, inspections and testing of all lifting equipment including scissor lifts, cherry pickers, cranes, hoists, shackles and strops.
The Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 placed a legal duty on employers to carry out risk assessments as a first step in ensuring a safe workplace; this lies at the heart of a modern approach to health and safety at work.
For further information on risk assessments please visit www.worksmart.org.uk
Manual Handling Regulations – place a responsibility on employers to assess and provide training and guidance as necessary to prevent injury from manual handling. Despite these regulations, 4,331 people suffered major injuries across all industries in 2007/8 (593 of which were in the construction industry).
Work at Height Regulations – were introduced to prevent the high number of deaths in this area. Despite these, there were still 3,235 major injuries and 34 deaths (of which the majority were in the construction industry) as a result of falling from height in 2007/8.
To view the full accident statistics for ‘Injuries to employees by kind of accident, severity of injury and industry 2007/8’ please visit HSE
Control of Asbestos Regulations – were implemented to try to arrest the huge increase in deaths from contact with asbestos. A release issued by the HSE in 2003 predicted that the number of mesothelioma (a form of cancer caused by asbestos) deaths in Great Britain (males and females of all ages) is now predicted to peak somewhere between 1,950 and 2,450 annually. The peak is expected between the years 2011 and 2015.
To view this release in full, please visit HSE
Construction (Design and Management) Regulations – aim to further raise the standards of health and safety in the construction industry. 2007/8 saw a total of 54 deaths and 18,200 non-fatal major injuries in the construction industry alone.
The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act has been introduced so that, for the first time, companies and organisations can be found guilty of corporate manslaughter as a result of serious management failures resulting in a gross breach of a duty of care. Directors and managers can be jailed, and companies face huge turnover related fines.
For further information please visit HSE
The Health & Safety Offences Act increases penalties and provides courts with greater sentencing powers for those who break health and safety laws. This act also empowers even the lower courts to issue fines of £20,000 for breaches of safety.
The future – we strongly believe that people don’t go to work to be hurt and that it is everyone’s right to go home safely to their family at the end of every working day. This is the foundation of our ethics policy and relates to our customers, employees, suppliers, sub-contractors, neighbours and other contractors with whom we interface – including those in direct competition with us.
We will continue to search for initiatives that engage our workforce in order to achieve our objective of a true Incident & Injury Free working environment.
We may see the rules set-down in the Hammurabi Codex in 1780 BC as being inhumane; however, what will be the view in 100 years when we look-back at the accident figures of the 21st Century and at the laws that were supposed to protect employees?
Food for thought……….