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In their own words...

The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 was described as “a bold and far-reaching piece of legislation" by HSE's first Director General, John Locke.

It is a law with broad cross-party support and which many still regard as a world-class piece of legislation.

Mark Harper MP, Minister for Disabled People

Mark Harper

This month marks 40 years since the Health and Safety at Work Act received Royal Assent. It has protected millions of British workers and driven sharp reductions in injuries and deaths at work. Any death is clearly a death too many, but few people can dispute that the reduction in fatalities and injuries over the last 40 years is quite remarkable. Britain is now officially one of the safest places in Europe - and the world - to work.

Judith Hackitt, Chair, HSE

Judith Hackitt

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.

This approach has proven itself to be far more effective than a prescriptive rules based alternative. GB’s health and safety performance compared to any other country in the world proves that - it is a system which is designed to enable work, and innovation, to take place rather than inhibiting progress. The Health and Safety at Work Act may be 40 years old but it - and our regulatory system - are world class.

Kevin Myers, Acting Chief Executive, HSE

Kevin Myers

The Act was a transformational piece of legislation delivering a genuine paradigm shift in thinking - with its move from a prescriptive, rules-based philosophy to a goal-setting, risk-based one. But it was much more than that!

It extended provision of H&S legislation beyond defined industrial sectors - factories, farms etc to cover all employment situations providing cover for the first time for some 8 million workers in local and central government, universities, hospitals etc as well as the self employed. It placed duties on designers, manufacturers and suppliers of equipment and materials.

Additionally, for the first time, the safety of the public was to be protected when put at risk by the conduct of an undertaking - a blessing but also arguably a slow burning curse which lies at the heart of many of today's 'elf 'n safety myths.

It's underlying principle of genuine self regulation (with an effective regulator to intervene where this is not working) is marbled through the way HSE regulates and engages with all the sectors it regulates. It is an approach, which is envied across the world - in terms of principle and process but also in terms of outcomes delivered.

We sometimes lose sight of the strengths of our system, and often take them for granted - but many people have benefited from this piece of legislation and will continue to for many more years to come.

Frances O’Grady, General Secretary, TUC

Frances O'Grady

This was an Act that was passed through a rare political consensus. It is based on the idea that health and safety is best deal with by employers, unions and government working together. It was also based on the principle of universal coverage of all those in the world of work.

It has served us well and been hugely effective. We must make sure that the principles that made it effective stay with us as we go forward into the future.

Alan Johnson MP

Alan Johnson

Never in the arc of history has an Act of Parliament that saved so many people from death and injury been so vehemently maligned and so disgracefully misrepresented.

Malcolm Webb, Oil & Gas UK’s chief executive

Malcolm Webb

Ensuring the health and safety of the workforce is the top priority of any industry, but particularly so in the offshore oil and gas sector, where people work in an environment which by its very nature is inherently hazardous.

The Health & Safety at Work Act (HSWA) has provided our industry with a strong regulatory regime to make the UK’s offshore environment a safer place to work. It continues to evolve in line with our industry’s resolve to remain constantly vigilant in the management of hazards.

The HSWA set the tone and provided the framework for implementing the recommendations proposed by Lord Cullen following the public inquiry into the Piper Alpha tragedy. As a result, the industry now operates under a robust and fit for purpose regulatory regime which is both dynamic in nature and goal-setting in attitude. It is a model that has since been replicated worldwide.

The goal-setting nature of the regulatory regime places the onus firmly on the industry to continually demonstrate that companies are taking measures to reduce all risks to as low as reasonably practical. Reducing the number of dangerous occurrences, injuries and hydrocarbon releases remains our top priority. Our industry is absolutely committed to continually improving safety standards through collaboration with our health and safety regulator and across the global industry.

Revd. Kevin Fear, Head of Health, Safety and Environment, Construction Industry Training Board

Kevin Fear

The really positive impact of the Act is due to its lack of prescription; if it had been worded "just do this and just do that" all opportunities for improving the quality of lives for workers would have been taken years ago.

The beauty of the Act is that it continues to challenge the construction industry to strive for safer and healthier working conditions which is only limited by how well we train the workforce, the technology at our disposal and our passion to improve.

Philip Johnston, Daily Telegraph

Philip Johnston

The Health and Safety at Work Act has arguably saved more lives than any other piece of legislation, including the ban on drink driving or the compulsory wearing of seat belts in cars. It may well have reduced deaths by 5,000 or more.

“Forty years on, the Act has achieved what it set out to do, which is to insist upon high standards of health and safety in places of work. All we need do now is to apply the law with the common sense that inspired it in the first place.

Martin Temple, Chair of Engineering Employers Federation

Martin Temple

Having worked in and around the broad UK manufacturing sector all of my working life, it was with some trepidation that I embarked upon the triennial review of HSE. Knowing that excellent health and safety is an integral part of a good manufacturing business, yet conscious that their is a more negative wider public perspective.

The Lord Robens vision of a goal setting, risk based, and proportionate health and safety framework which was embodied in the H&S at Work Act of 1974, and led to the creation of HSE, has stood the test of time. I discovered that after wide consultation there was near universal agreement that the Act remains valid and fit for purpose today, in a world that has changed immeasurably. Few Acts with such high and emotive profile can have endured so long in the UK and remain the corner stone of regulation in such a key area.

Ian Renhard, Managing Director, Interserve Construction Ltd

Ian Rehnard

Much has changed in the UK in the last 40 years. Technological advances, cultural changes, an economy changing from being predominantly heavy industry and manufacturing towards services and financial.

The Health and Safety at Work Act when introduced swept away a regime of prescriptive, industry specific, rule based legislation and introduced broad goal setting regime that put the responsibility for managing health and safety firmly with those best place to manage the risks.

This was a visionary and bold move that has stood the test of time throughout this period of change. A period that has seen a significant reduction in accidents and ill health, with improved working conditions for us all in the construction industry.

Stephen Timms MP

Stephen Timms

Before the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, there were 1000 deaths per year at work in the UK, and half a million injuries. The Act transformed UK health and safety management. It embodied an imaginative partnership approach, flexible, risk based and proportionate, based on self-regulation. The number of fatalities at work has fallen by well over 75%.

The approach has stood the test of time. It is no surprise that Professor Ragnar Löfstedt of King’s College, London, while proposing a number of detailed changes, advised Ministers in November 2011: ‘in general, there is no case for radically altering current health and safety legislation.’

Updated: 2014-09-02