220 years of change: How two centuries of workplace Health and Safety has improved lives

From child labour and frequent deaths in the workplace, to us now having some of the safest working environments in the world, health and safety legislation has shaped not just the workplace, but society as a whole. Business health and safety has come a long way from the 1800s, when it was the norm for workers to be endangered by their jobs. In 1802, when the UK introduced its first Act of Parliament to protect the welfare of people at work, employees (many younger than the age of 9) faced losing limbs, being burned and blinded, and even dying in the workplace every day. This saw the Health and Morals of Apprentices Act being introduced in 1802 to reduce the working hours for those employed in cotton mills and factories. Later, the Factories Act 1833 also imposed a minimum age for child workers.

Thanks to the more recent introduction of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and the Health and Safety Executive a year later, workplaces have become safer and safer. With all employers having a legal duty to protect the health, safety and well-being of their employees, it’s now the norm for new legislation to be implemented, as well as frequent updates being made to the UK’s existing health and safety laws.

To see how business health and safety has changed over the years, we’ve picked out some of the most significant events that have helped to shape the modern workplace as we know it and form the general health and safety practices that businesses of all sizes use today…

Britain’s health and safety timeline: 1800s to now

1802: Health and Morals of Apprentices Act 1802

This is the first Act of Parliament that was passed to protect the welfare of employees, and its full title is the ‘Act for the preservation of the Health and Morals of Apprentices and others employed in Cotton and other Mills, and Cotton and other Factories’. It was passed by politician Sir Robert Peel (who later served as Prime Minister) due to the abuse of children working in texture mills and the poor conditions they experienced in these premises.

The introduction of this Act in 1802 limited labour to 12 hours a day and prevented pauper apprentices from working during the night. It also dictated that apprentices should be educated in reading, writing and basic arithmetic, and supplied with adequate clothing and sleeping accommodation. Additionally, this Act outlined that these such environments should be washed on a regular basis. This was advised as once a week for floors, and two or three times a year for walls and ceilings.

1833: The HM Factory Inspectorate and The Factories Act 1833

The first version of the Factories Act was introduced due to pressure from the “Ten Hours Movement”. This originally emerged in 1831 and sought to satisfy millworkers’ demand for a 10-hour day. Although the Factories Act 1833 maintained the maximum 12-hour day for children and other young workers in cotton mills and other factories, it was extended to include linen and woollen mills. Some of the other changes it implemented were that no child workers could be under 9 years of age and each child was required to have two hours of schooling per day. The Factories Act was later revised in 1844 to prohibit the cleaning of factory machinery when it is in motion.

Under the provisions of this Act, the HM Factory Inspectorate was also formed and the first inspectors were appointed in factories. They were responsible for around 3,000 texture mills, and had the power to formulate new legislation to ensure the Factories Act was adhered to.

1837: recognition of duty of care to employees

Although not the passing of a new Act, 1937 is notable for being the first time it was enforced that an employee has, in a common law, a duty of care to employees if a breach resulted in an injury or other harm to their health. In the Priestley v. Fowler (1837) case, it was ruled that Thomas Fowler of Market Deeping was responsible for injury caused to his servant, Charles Priestley, when working.

1842: Coal Mines Act 1842

This Act was implemented as a result of public outcry. A Report by a Royal Commission that same year found that accidents, lung disease, brutality and long working hours were the norm for people working in the coal mines, causing a new Coal Mines Act to prohibit women of all ages from underground work. Boys aged 10 and under were also excused, though this age limit rose to 12 in the year 1860.

A year later, The Mines Inspectorate was formed to ensure all mines and collieries were appointed an inspector. The first inspector was Hugh Seymour Tremenheere, who was responsible for reporting on serious and fatal incidents in the mines and making recommendations to training managers. However, he wasn’t permitted to enter the mines to inspect them. It wasn’t until 1850 that inspectors were able to enter the coalmines.

1964: First use of high visibility workwear

Protective high visibility clothing was first introduced to the UK this year when it was trialled by railway maintenance workers in Glasgow. These workers were provided with hi-vis vests from their employer, The Scottish Rail Network. It was agreed that these were effective at making workers more visible, so by 1965, everyone working on the West Coast Main Line (which connects Greater London to Scotland), was provided with high visibility clothing as standard.

1974: Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974

Now the most important piece of health and safety legislation in the UK, the Health and Safety at Work Act was first introduced in 1974 to provide a standard legal framework to protect employees (including temporary workers and trainees). One of the primary responsibilities of this Act (which every employer is legally required to comply with) is to take appropriate steps to ensure the health, safety and welfare of people at work. Although it was initially called “a bold and far-reaching piece of legislation” by HSE’s first Director General, John Locke, at the time of its implementation, it now forms the basic framework for managing workplace health and safety in the UK.

1956: Agriculture (Safety, Health and Welfare Provisions) Act 1956

The introduction of this Act focused on implementing comprehensive health and safety protection for workers in the agricultural industry and children who may come into contact with agricultural vehicles, equipment and machinery. It prohibited excessive heavy lifting and outlined provisions of sanitary and washroom facilities and requirements for first aid.

That same year, the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) was also established in conjunction with the Act. The purpose of the commission was to conduct research into health and safety in order to propose and implement new legislation.

1975: Health and Safety Executive (HSE)

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was formed a year after the establishment of HSC and HASAWA. Its aim was to enforce health and safety in workplaces across the UK by undertaking the requirements of the new Health and Safety Commission. As part of this, many regulatory and scientific organisations concerned with workplace health and safety were transferred to HSE, such as the Factory Inspectorate and the Safety and Health Division from the Department of Energy. Today, HSE remains the regulator that enforces the protection of health, safety and welfare in workplaces, with responsibilities including to provide advice to employers and employees, and conducting research and inspections.

1981: Health and Safety (First Aid) Regulations 1981

These regulations, which came into force in July 1982, outlined that employers must provide adequate equipment and facilities to allow first aid to be provided to employees if they become ill or injured at work, as well as any visitors to your business premises. This includes educating employees on the first aid facilities available, where they’re located in the building, and how to use them (if necessary).

1992: Personal Protective Equipment at Work Act 1992

Almost 30 years after hi-vis vests were first trialled in the UK by Scottish railway workers, the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Act was implemented to ensure that all employees should be provided with PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) in any working environments where it is necessary to ensure their health and safety. This Act dictates that employers are responsible for providing this PPE, as well as correctly maintained and stored when not in use. PPE includes (but isn’t limited to) googles, gloves, helmets and protective clothing.

1994: EN471 standard for high visibility clothing

The BS EN471 was introduced to implement an industry standard for high visibility clothing for workers in the EU and the UK. The BS EN471 (also known as the European standard for High Visibility Clothing), separates high visibility garments based on the level of visibility they provide into 3 Classes, with Class 1 offering the highest level of protection. In 2003, the standard was superseded by an updated version, and it is frequently reviewed.

2013: Health and Safety (Sharp Instruments in Healthcare) RegulationsThese regulations were introduced to ensure employers prevent the reduce risk of harm from medical ‘sharps’ (such as needles) used in the healthcare sector. They require all employers and contractors in healthcare to train employees on the risks of sharps and provide suitable arrangements to ensure their safe use and disposal. The regulations also dictate that employers and contractors must investigate all work-related incidents involving sharps.

2019 and beyond: preparing for Brexit

With there being so much uncertainly around the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union this year, there’s also plenty of confusion around what this means for business health and safety regulations as we know them. However, as NEBOSH explains, though the UK Parliament may amend and appeal laws after we leave, it’s likely that the UK will want to retain their strong ties with the EU. So, it’s appropriate to assume that we’ll continue to adhere to the same (or very similar) health and safety standards and regulations.

To find out more about how phs Besafe can help you ensure the health and safety of your workforce with high visibility and flame resistant garments, contact us to find out more.









Do you have a question?

More News

Benefits of Reusing Water for Laundry

In the UK, we’re lucky to benefit from safe, clean drinking water. But did you know that three billion litres of drinking...


Choosing The Best Workwear For Summertime

Workwear should be assessed at the start of every season to make sure it is suitable for the job and comfortable for the...


How to Choose the Right Workwear Suppliers

The search for the right workwear suppliers can be a long and complicated task. Unlike other types of clothing, workwear...