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40 and beyond - looking back, thinking forward

It is 40 years since the Health and Safety at Work etc Act received Royal Assent and provided a new regulatory framework for work place health and safety in Great Britain. The passage of the Bill to create the Act spanned two different Governments and had broad, all-party support.

The Act has helped make Britain one of the safest and healthiest places in the world to work, saving thousands of lives, preventing many more injuries at work and reducing the economic and social costs of health and safety failures. The total number of work-related injuries has fallen by three quarters since it was introduced. The number of people fatally injured doing their job now stands at a record low.

In part, this is due to changes in the nature of our economy (ie the reduction in manufacturing and mining) which accounts for half of the improvement. But the Act has made an undeniable and significant contribution to the improvements in risk management.  The example of the Olympic new build – the first ever to be delivered without a fatality – shows how far we have come since 1974. 

The Health and Safety at Work Act places responsibility on those who create risks to manage them in a proportionate, practical way. It places ownership and responsibility for managing risk with the person who creates the risk whilst also giving a responsibility to every employee to look out for themselves and their colleagues.

These principles are universally applicable, this not only means it can be applied across all workplaces but globally and it is no surprise that other countries around the world are keen to replicate our system. We welcome this interest, and as we look to the future, we hope to share this knowledge and expertise more widely in order to help save even more lives around the world.

We have made considerable progress in rebuilding the reputation of health and safety among the British workers and public whose lives it protects.

We have actively campaigned against those ‘jobsworths’ who misuse the Act, or those who trivialise its purpose by using health and safety as a convenient excuse for unpopular decisions or to defend poor service.

One of the reasons our regulatory system remains fit for purpose for the 21st Century is that we continue to evolve, preserving the good, whilst being bold enough to move on.

As our economy continues to change, we will work with industry to ensure people understand what is required of them, and what it not, whilst also considering ways to reduce the cost to the taxpayer via central government funding.

As HSE looks to the next 40 years it will strive to improve and innovate whilst holding on to the core principles and qualities that have enabled Great Britain to be one of the safest places to work in the world.

Updated: 2014-09-02