40 Years of Health and Safety – Do You Appreciate it?


The Sun has celebrated 40 years of health and safety legislation, which started with the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, noting rules it finds either "barmy" or sensible. It seems that sometimes the press doesn't take health and safety too seriously, but perhaps they should try that tone with the victims of the Rana Plaza factory disaster, or the Senghenydd Colliery disaster.

Health and Safety

Should we really be making a joke of laws that were established to protect us?

Why the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974)?

While the Rana Plaza factory disaster happened in Bangladesh, where arguably health and safety standards are lower, it illustrates the need for safe working conditions ever so clearly, particularly as many of those who died were producing garments intended for sale in the UK. The building was not maintained appropriately, and contained thousands of people in very close conditions. The building came crashing down, killing 1,129 and injuring more than 2,500.

But buildings didn't just randomly fall apart.

Cracks had formed in the building the day before the collapse, and as a result other companies, such as a private bank, stopped using the premises. The garments factories carried on as normal, despite warnings. This ultimately resulted in a massive loss of life, and the widows and children of the dead received just $200 in compensation.

Our laws would and could have prevented this, and our so called "compensation culture" would have made sure the victims were rightfully compensated. Although, no amount of money brings back the loss of a life.

Before the health and safety laws were passed, Britain wasn't without its large scale disasters. The Senghenydd Colliery disaster killed 440, and the resford Disaster, killed 266. These both occurred in the 20th century before the introduction of new laws.

The Piper Alpha oil platform in the North Sea exploded in July 1988, and the 26 year anniversary recently passed. 167 workers were killed.

Health and Safety, or a Completely Different Reason?

The rules have got tighter since they were first implemented, which, at some point, resulted in people bemoaning health and safety. The problem is that quite often health and safety is quoted as a reason not to do something, when in fact it is just that more care ought to be taken. These common 'modern myths' are an example:

  • Workers are not banned from putting up Christmas decorations. As long as they're put up safely, for example using a stepladder to reach the ceiling.
  • The classic childhood game 'pin the tail on the donkey' is not banned. The Health and Safety Executive feel that not trusting children with drawing pins is a bit overprotective. Leaving them alone with 1000's of items to throw at each other is the issue.
  • It's graduation season, and many might think that you're not allowed to throw your mortar board into the air. However, this is completely untrue! Nobody would advocate breaking the hats since they cost so much to rent, but there's no appreciable risk of harming someone with it.

Hopefully, we can learn to appreciate what being a safe nation is all about. It's about being realistic about the risks, particularly when safety precautions don’t take much to put in place.

Removing law put in place for good reason, is a slippery slope to travel, without real thought and assessment of an alternative.

Appreciate what we have fought for and learn how to use it.

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