Happy Birthday Health and Safety at Work Act #HSWA40

Health & Safety PPEThis year marks the 40th anniversary of the Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA).

This piece of British legislation underpins all the others relating to safety in the workplace in our statute book. Back in 2009 and on that anniversary of the legislation being created, the then president of the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) said the legislation was still fit for purpose and should continue.

It might have taken a few knocks over the years but it is still, a highly important and ingenious piece of legislation, and there’s no reason why it can’t continue underpinning health and safety laws for many years to come…(Nattasha Freeman, Past President IOSH)

Calling the Act “a truly brilliant piece of legislation” at the time, Ms Freeman acknowledged that it wasn’t perfect. What legislation really is, especially after so many years? Thankfully, H&S statistics are finally starting to show an overal decline in deaths, serious injury and illness over recent years. That alone is/was one of the major reasons behind many of the calls to ‘water down’ and/or rescind current legislation – “It aint needed, we don’t send kids down mines any more!”.

True. With the overall decline of manufacturing and heavy industry in the UK over more recent decades, many believe that H&S legislation is either no longer relevent or, that it actually hinders business and has no use in the modern workplace. Not so!

Health & Safety Statistics – Key annual figures 2012/13

  • 148 workers killed at work
  • 78 000 other injuries to employees were reported under RIDDOR
  • 175 000 over-7-day absence injuries occurred (LFS)
  • 1.1 million working people were suffering from a work-related illness (2011/12)
  • 27 million working days were lost due to work-related illness and workplace injury (2011/12)
  • Workplace injuries and ill-health (excluding cancer) cost society an estimated £13.8 billion in 2010/11

(Source: HSE Statistics)

Answer this simple question – Will it ever be acceptable for anyone to suffer any of the above, simply because of their work? The answer should be a resounding “NO” both from employees and their employers. Neither should those employers be tempted to try to save money when it comes to safety.

Whilst the economic climate is difficult and the temptation for some may be to cut corners, HSE, its partners and businesses must resolve to continue to strive to improve health and safety performance. Good health and safety is good business…(Judith Hackitt – HSE Chair)

But irrespective of all the good work done in achieving some pretty impressive safety records in British workplaces, there are still some who are hell-bent on ridiculing H&S. That or trying to undermining the work of those involved in H&S. Most of this negativity comes from either, the cheap shot tactics of journalists, hungry for their scoop. That and the concerted efforts of ‘No Win No Fee’ law firms, desperate to fill their coffers.

Health and safety gone mad is something we hear too much about, but we should keep our minds on what health and safety legislation is really there to do – ensuring everyone can return home to their families, safe and well, from their day’s work…(John Rowe HSE)

As a result of all the H&S confusion that abounds (mostly from laypersons), the Govt commissioned Lord Young to take an in-depth look at Health & Safety in the UK. He published his H&S review in 2010, Common Sense – Common Safety. That report made numerous recommendations for improving the way health and safety is applied but importantly, it also made recommendations for tackling the compensation culture that has hijacked safety in the workplace.

One of the most interesting parts to come out of the ‘Young Report’ for me (given my previous career) was in relation to H&S as it relates to the work of our Emergency Services.

Police officers and firefighters should not be at risk of investigation or prosecution under health and safety legislation when engaged in the course of their duties if they have put themselves at risk as a result of committing a heroic act.The HSE, Association of Chief Police Officers and Crown Prosecution Service should consider further guidance to put this into effect…(Young Report)

Getting back to the generalities, Judith Hackitt, the current Chair of the HSE mostly welcomed the ‘Young Report’ when it was published. During a podcast at the time (like many more H&S professionals) she was supportive of many of the proposals that were being made.

I think it is starting to turn the tide and I think we can look forward to actually making some real progress now on creating this clear water between the genuine stuff that we do and the nonsense that’s done in our name…(Judith Hackitt)

To my mind one of the greatest (and most simple) things partly resulting from the report has been, the increased efforts by the HSE to debunk much of the misinformation about H&S (see here). I would expect the Myth Busters Challenge Panel to have seen a significant workload.

There have been (and will be) some (mostly minor) changes to H&S legislation and guidance overall, as a direct result of the ‘Young Report’ however; Young acknowledged that HASWA was still (mostly) fit for purpose. Who am I to disagree?

Unpicking the system and freeing it from bureaucracy are the best enablers of an effective health and safety system without unnecessarily risking injuries or lives…(Young Report)

If you think health and safety has to be complicated – it doesn’t (take a look)!


  • The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH): a British ‘Chartered’ organization for professionals involved in occupational safety and health. It’s total membership exceeds 43,000 individuals worldwide.
  • SHPOnline: the website for the Safety and Health Practitioner magazine (SHP), which is the official magazine of IOSH.
  • Health & Safety Executive (HSE):  the national independent watchdog for work-related health, safety and illness. The independent regulator acts in the public interest to reduce work-related death and serious injury across Great Britain.
  • The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 entry at wikipedia.org