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40 years on

The inspiration to improve workplace health and safety has been a prime mover for this Institute, and we celebrate our 40th anniversary in the same year as the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Looking back to 1975 in the UK is valuable – not for nostalgic or academic reasons as history is an important talisman – but for reminding us of change in the health and safety world, and most of it is positive.

We were led by a Labour government with Harold Wilson as Prime Minister and Michael Foot as Secretary of State for Employment. Margaret Thatcher became Leader of the Conservative party and the coal miners accepted a 35 per cent pay rise!

Ford Escorts and Cortinas were all the rage, but less popular was the harsh economic recession and its three day working week. There were no mobile phones to speak of and a colour TV licence was just £18.

Back then we killed about 500 people in workplace accidents every year, so of course something had to change. About two million workers were self-employed (roughly nine per cent of the working age population) compared with the 4.6 million we have today (15 per cent).

The introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act in 1975 provided legal protection to a further eight million workers as it covered more industries than its predecessors. Within a year the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), while establishing a new enforcement regime, issued some 7,334 improvement notices and initiated about 1,200 prosecutions.

In 2015 the regulator now runs the Fee for Intervention charging scheme and there’s a growing confidence in the courts with corporate manslaughter cases on the rise. The launch of Approved Codes of Practice in the mid-70s was important, yet in a post Löfstedt Review world the executive, along with the government, have withdrawn some and revised many.

The impending loss of duties for the self-employed is a retrograde step but at least much of the value from 1975 is still with us, including the HSE itself.

Greg Brown Deputy Chief Executive, IIRSM

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