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A Brief History of Health and Safety in the Workplace
Posted by David Cant on February 1, 2012
1 Comment

It is possible to trace the formation of a structured health and safety system back to 1833 when the Factories Act began. It was the duty of inspectors to help to prevent injuries to young children working in terrible conditions and also to try and prevent overworking.  In these early days the inspectors faced a lot of negative reactions from the politicians of the day. Despite the lack of support the Factories Act was able to bring in certain laws and regulations which helped the Act to be enforced.

How did Health and Safety Start?

The Factories Act 1833 also led to some lifesaving regulations being introduced some of which are still important in modern life. Two of these legislations include having guards on dangerous machinery to prevent injuries as well as the reporting of accidents. Between 1860 and 1871 the Factories Act was extended and covered almost all workplaces. As well as enforcing the new regulations and laws the 35 employees who worked as inspector or sub inspectors were also able to give advice to owners to help ensure the laws were understood and followed.

Women Join the Factory Inspectorate

Almost 60 years after the first Act was created the first women joined the team of inspectors. The Women’s Protective and Provident League were joined by other groups including the London’s Women’s Trade Council to campaign for the rights of females to be employed in this sector. In 1893 they were successful in their campaign and as a result two women, Amy Abraham and Mary Paterson were awarded positions in the inspectorate and were paid £200 per year helping to enforce the Truck Acts. Their roles included making sure that the health and safety laws and regulations were enforced as well as monitoring the hours of women’s employment.

Between 1833 and 1900 other Acts were formed such as:

  • The Mines Act 1842 which was a result of the 1840 Royale Commission aimed at investigating the working conditions of miners.
  • In 1895 the Quarry Inspectorate was formed to investigate and enforce health and safety at Quarries where steam machinery was being used. Two Acts were introduced, the Quarries Act and the Metalliferous Mines Regulation 1872 which led to the formation of the Quarry Inspectorate.

Between 1900 and 1974 there were further Acts created:

  • Agriculture – The Agriculture (Safety Health and Welfare Provisions) Act 1956
  • Nuclear Power – Nuclear Installations Act 1959

One of the Acts which is most commonly known was formed in 1974 which was the Health and Safety at Work Act.  Both employers and their employees were consulted in the formation of the Act which was considered to be a major move away from current legislations. This act led to the establishment of the Health and Safety Commission and in 1974 the Health and Safety Executive were also established. The HSE are still the major authority when it comes to enforcing health and safety today along with local authorities.

Since then there have been numerous changes and Acts introduced including but by no means limited to:

  • Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977
  • Control of Lead at Work Regulations 1980
  • Notification of Accidents and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1980
  • Health and Safety (First Aid) Regulations 1981
  • Asbestos (Licensing) Regulations 1983
  • Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 1997
  • Construction (Design and Management) Regulations (CDM 2007)
  • Control of Artificial Optical Radiation at Work Regulations 2010

Health and Safety at work has a rich history which has evolved with changes in technology, industry and scientific advancement. To this very day the HSE is continuing to enforce the laws and regulations to try and prevent accidents and work related deaths.

Health and Safety consultants are able to assist you by providing you with accurate advice surrounding the numerous Acts now in place. For further assistance call 0800 1488 677 and speak to advisors about the many health and safety services built around the current laws and legislations.


Director at Veritas Consulting. The SME's favourite go-to consultant for health and safety know-how. Bucket loads of experience. Fluent in practical advice. Solutionist with a brain you can pick.

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This post has been filed in: Health and Safety at Work, Health and Safety Services

One Comment

  1. Glenn L Taylor
    April 18, 2012 at 5:12 am


    The first piece of considered EHS legislation is said to be the 1802 Health & Morals of Apprentices Act which later moved to the Factories Act in later years…….

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