40 years of the 'Health and Safety at Work Act'
2014 marks 40 years since the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 came into existence. In recent years, the phrase ‘Health and Safety’ is seen in the same vein as ‘political correctness gone mad’. The reality is that the 1974 Act was intended to simplify the rules and regulations governing workplace safety.
Before this we had the Factories Act, the Railways Act and countless other acts which set specific rules for different industries. Complying with the safety requirements was seen as being too onerous on business, leading to the 1974 Act. 40 years later, the media portray the 1974 Act as the root of the health and safety headache for businesses.
Since the Act’s introduction, fatal workplace accidents have fallen by 85%, non-fatal workplace injuries have fallen by 77%, the most significant decrease in the first 25 years, 1974-1999. Government minister Mike Penning confirmed in the House of Commons in January 2014 that the 40th anniversary should be marked as the Act that made Britain ‘one of the safest places to work in the world’. The intention of the Act was to produce broad requirements to prioritise workplace safety and then to require businesses, who know their own sector and risks associated with their industry, to consider those dangers and to act appropriately.
The Act is often misquoted and used as lazy justification for decisions. In essence what it requires is businesses to plan and minimise the risks that can be foreseen. The Act is supported by the ‘6 Pack’ of regulations which provides the more detailed obligations that apply when particular risks exist: lifting, and the need for protective equipment as well as the basic workplace standards. Over the past 40 years new regulations have been introduced, e.g working at height regulations, but the basic obligations remain as set out in the 1974 Act.
Many businesses fear Health & Safety. The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has conducted a myth busting campaign in recent years to address the misconceptions. Employers and their employees know their business and their industry.
Getting advice on how to assess the risks and recording that assessment is key. Accidents happen and if businesses can demonstrate they operate or went into a project with their eyes open, minimised the risk and took reasonable steps, then this will often satisfy HSE and persuade insurers to defend a claim for compensation. Most importantly accidents and injuries are more likely to be prevented in the first place.
If you have any queries about health and safety responsibilities or prosecutions, employer/public liability insurance or risk management health checks, call Jennie Jones, Partner at Nockolds Solicitors, direct dial - 01279 712580.