This week marks 40 years since the Health and Safety at Work Act etc 1974 received Royal Assent.
The passage of the Bill to create the Act spanned two different Governments and had broad, all-party support. It has helped to make Britain one of the safest places in the world to work. 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 has fallen further, by 85 per cent, and now stands at a record low.
In part, this is due to changes in the nature of our economy (i.e. the reduction in the share related to 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.
One of its strengths is the Act’s ability to reflect a changing world. It calls for those who create risk to manage it, rather than setting prescriptive rules which people have to follow.
However, in recent years there is evidence that some parts of society have lost sight of the risk-based, proportionate philosophy underpinning the Act. Since 2010, the Coalition has taken action to change the way the Act is sometimes interpreted or viewed by businesses and the public – to restore common sense, and make the law and guidance simpler and clearer.
We have made considerable progress in rebuilding the reputation of health and safety among the British workers and public whose lives it protects. Ministers and others 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.
Many other countries envy the regulatory philosophy and regime we now have in Britain. The Health and Safety Executive is widely respected across the world, and is finding new commercial opportunities in international work that can be used to export that philosophy to the benefit of other countries and our economy.
On this important anniversary, I hope you will join me in celebrating the Act’s real achievements in improving standards of occupational risk management in Great Britain. It has saved thousands of lives and prevented many more injuries at work over the last 40 years, reducing the economic and social costs of health and safety failures. In turn, this has played its part in helping to reduce burdens on business and support the growth of the UK economy as part of the Coalition’s long-term seconomic plan.
Mark Harper MP, Minister for Disabled People