The purpose of this essay is to examine health and safety legislation. The essay will focus on four main points. Three of these points are as follows; Health and safety legislation of the past, health and safety legislation currently enforced and possible health and safety legislation of the future. The final point of the essay will be to look at the fact that a high standard of health and safety is currently required and whether the legislation has gone too far. The first example of health and safety legislation came about in the industrial age of the 19th century. The first factory inspectors were appointed under the provisions of the Factories Act 1833. Initially their main duty was to prevent injury and overworking in child textile workers. The four inspectors were responsible for approximately 3,000 textile mills and had powers to enter mills and question workers. They were also able to formulate new regulations and laws to ensure the Factories Act could be suitably enforced. Despite serious opposition from contemporary politicians and employers, the factory inspectors were enthusiastic and were able to influence subsequent legislation relating to machinery guarding and accident reporting. By 1868 there were 35 inspectors and sub-inspectors, each responsible for a distinct geographical area. Changes to legislation during the period 1860 to 1871 extended the Factories Act to practically all workplaces and the inspectors took on the role of technical advisers in addition to their enforcement duties. Factory inspectors were constantly challenged in the subsequent future, due to world wars, technological advancements and so on. Six years after the creation of the factories Act 1833 a Royal Commission was established to investigate working conditions in the mining industry.
The Commission’s findings published in 1842 made shocking reading. Accidents, brutality, lung diseases, long hours and highly dangerous and adverse working conditions were found to be the norm. Public outcry resulted and the Mines Act 1842 was brought into force. The Act allowed for the appointment of an inspector of mines and collieries. The first inspector, Hugh Seymour Tremenheere was appointed 1843. Tremenheere had only limited powers under the Act but undertook many prosecutions, investigated the condition of the mining community and made recommendations for training managers, reporting of fatal and serious accidents and provision of pithead baths and suitable habitation for mine workers. In 1850 inspectors were allowed to enter and inspect mine premises and Tremenheere’s plans for a dedicated mining inspectorate began to be realised. Prior to the Quarries Act 1894, the only quarries that factory inspectors were responsible for inspecting were quarries using steam power. The introduction of the Quarries Act 1894 extended the powers of the Metalliferous Mines Regulation Act 1872 to give inspectors the power to enforce provisions of notifying accidents, undertake prosecutions and make special rules. This lead to the establishment of the Quarry Inspectorate. This Act introduced comprehensive health protection and safeguards for agricultural workers and for children who may come into contact with agricultural machinery, equipment or vehicles. It prohibited the lifting of excessive weights, outlined the general provisions that must be made for sanitary conveniences and washing facilities and stipulated requirements for first aid provision. The Act also laid down requirements for the notification and investigation of accidents and diseases.
It was instrumental in appointing a number of inspectors with the powers to enter agricultural premises and enforce the Act. The investigation into a major incident at the Windscale nuclear site on 8 October 1957 lead to a recommendation from the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) that a body should be set up with responsibility for licensing future civil reactors in the UK. The insurance industry added pressure to the debate and in 1959 the Nuclear Installations Act was passed, setting in train the formation of the Inspectorate of Nuclear Installations within the Ministry of Power. Today’s Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) is responsible for the UK safety regulation of nuclear power stations, nuclear chemical plants, defence nuclear facilities, nuclear safety research, decommissioning and strategy. Since 2 April 2007 NII has also been responsible for civil nuclear operational security and safeguards matters. The current legislation governing health and safety is the Health and Safety Act 1974 and there are also statutory instruments that work in combination as a second type of legislation under specific acts of parliament. The Health and Safety Act 1974 is the primary piece of legislation covering occupational health and safety in the United Kingdom and it is the Health and Safety Executive that is responsible for enforcing the Act plus a number of other Acts and Statutory Instruments relevant to the working environment. The statutory instruments work in combination as a second type of legislation under specific acts of parliament which cover a wide range of subjects, from control of asbestos at work, diving, escape and rescue from mines, ionising radiation and working at height.
Certain facts can help identify why the laws around health and safety are so important in the work place such as: Health and safety failures cost British employers between £3.3 billion and £6.5 billion every year. One work related injury occurs every 8 seconds.
171 people were killed whilst at work in 2010/2011, an increase of 24 on the previous year. Falls from height are the most common cause of death at work.
This clearly establishes the amount of risk involved at work and why it is so important to the employer to have the appropriate measures in place to prevent drastic accidents from happening.
The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work is the central provider for health and safety guidance and information in Europe. They work with governments, employers and workers, in order to identify current and future risks, share information, good practice and advice that can improve working life. At the moment there are 6 specific business health and safety requirements that the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work have implemented for employers and they are obliged to use. They consist of; To ensure free health and safety for workers in every part of their work, To evaluate occupational risks specific to job type and provide adequate protective and preventative services, To keep accident records and reports, To take necessary measures for first aid, fire-fighting, evacuation of workers, and action required in serious and dangerous events, To inform, consult and discuss health and safety at work with employees and To provide adequate health and safety training for every employee throughout their employment. If these provisions are in place there is an instant barrier of protection for employers and employees to feel safe behind whilst working.
Cases arise continuously everyday but decisions can’t be made straight away so it may be some time before the case is concluded, there have been many of these cases in the past week. An Edmonton 3-based recycling company was been fined for failing to protect employees working with lead. During a visit by HSE inspectors they found that in less than a year more than 90 workers were ill from being exposed to lead in the process which was no surprise considering the only protection provided was gloves other than that they wore their own clothes providing a great opportunity for the lead to be spread to others at home. A second case is where a building firm fined after passer-by hit by falling equipment despite the incident taking place in September 2008 the company has only just been fined after it was realised the accident was preventable. A final example is where a Phillip Birchmore was trading as a fully established plumbing company despite the fact that he wasn’t actually registered by gas safe. He was discovered to be unqualified when someone called upon him after he made a poor job of their boiler fitting as a result he has to complete a community order and pay a fine of £3053.
Health and safety procedures surround everyone at every single hour of the day and there is no escaping them despite how minute and unnecessary they may be considered. There is much debate about how health and safety has gone too far with major unrest in certain work places and extreme precautions reducing some aspects. In a recent article there was a major discussion over potential new rules in schools such as wearing goggles when using blu-tack and only being about to walk in the playground. These certain measures are will take the fun out of education but also limit it and most importantly create new worries for teachers. Teachers already have enough worries with 40% being frightened of being on their own with a pupil in case they were falsely accused of inappropriate behaviour.
It almost seems as if the health and safety organisations assume that everyone is uneducated and stupid when it comes to the basic principles of life with the best example being the message on top of lids on hot drinks ‘Caution the contents maybe hot’. It is obvious that the contents will be hot considering it is a hot drink that has purchased; it almost seems as if the legislation is mocking our common sense. However despite this things like this exist to the purpose of protection in terms of the customer, employees and the employer. Clearly, since the health and safety at work act was introduced in 1974, health and safety in the workplace has improved dramatically. Statistics show that the rate of fatal injury per 100 000 employees was 2.9 in 1974, whereas in 2011 this had fallen to 0.5. This shows how strict the government has become with health and safety in the workplace over the last 38 years.
This leads to the question, has the government gone too far in terms of health and safety in the workplace?
An article from 2009 in the Guardian suggested that children would now have to wear goggles whilst handling blu-tack at school to stop them rubbing it into their eyes. Furthermore, windows in classrooms could be opened to further than 6 inches to avoid pupils falling out of them. A poll of 585 teachers found almost half – 44.3% – believe health and safety regulations now restrict pupils’ education. Some 46.5% said rules were constraining children’s personal growth. Judith Hackitt, chair of the Health and Safety Executive described the health and safety examples as “frankly ridiculous” and said that “Children cannot be wrapped in cotton wool,” and that “Risk is part of growing up and our children need to learn how to manage risks in the real world.”
Having established that health and safety regulations have been taken to extreme measures, what does the future look like? There are a number of foreseeable factors that will impact on health, wellbeing and engagement in the workplace over the coming decades.
The first of these is an ageing workforce. Over the next ten to twenty years, the workforce will become, on average, older. While demographic change in the population as a whole will lead to an ageing population in general, the impact on the workforce will be even more marked due to the removal of the default retirement age and changes in pension provision that are likely to mean people will either retire later or feel that they are unable to retire at all.
Secondly, the onward march of technological change presents both opportunities and risks for workplace health and wellbeing. Communications technologies such as video conferencing, document sharing and virtual meeting systems can reduce time-pressures and stress levels by removing travelling. They can also help with inclusiveness for those who are unable to travel for health reasons, offering individuals recovering from ill health or with chronic health problems a way to be productive despite any limitations caused by their condition. Together with changes in regulation around flexible working and caring responsibilities, these technologically-enabled new ways of working can help improve work-life balance and achieve better fit between employees and jobs resulting in improved health, wellbeing and loyalty to the organisation.
In times of economic uncertainty absence levels often drop in relative terms because employees are concerned about job security and employers may deal with absence earlier because they cannot afford the employee’s time away. One area that has yet to receive the attention it deserves is the rise of presenteeism, where an individual goes to work despite suffering ill-health. According to the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health there is evidence to suggest that this is a more costly problem for employers than absenteeism, partly because it is more likely to happen amongst higher paid employees. It is by no means easy to identify or measure, however the recent CBI survey showed that almost three quarters of responding employers reported that presenteeism had an adverse impact on staff productivity levels, making this by far the most common problem in terms of poor performance.
It is clear that there are many troubles for the future of health and safety in the workplace, and so what more could be done to prevent or help the situation? While welfare reform and reductions in benefit costs are an understandable focus for the UK Government at the moment, there is a need to look at the complexity of issues that are associated with the health and work agenda. Just as the independent Review of Sickness Absence has found that there are no simple answers to reducing sickness absence and its associated costs, so the broader issue of getting governments, employers, healthcare providers, trade unions and employees to work together to achieve healthy, high performing workplaces cannot be solved with a singleinitiative.
In conclusion, regulation and legislation can only go so far in protecting employee health. There will always be a certain degree of risk in the workplace no matter what measures are put into place.