Training and Development Courses and Qualifications by The BCF Group

History of Health and Safety in the Workplace


Health and safety is today universal in its importance in the workplace, but where did it all begin? Today we will explore the origins of health and safety, learning how industrial changes shaped health and safety from an initial framework of simple production practices, to evolve into a body of law that protects employers around the world.

Origin of Health and Safety - The Industrial Revolution

The concept of occupational health and safety continues to be critically important worldwide - and it is thanks to revision of legislation and discussions between workers' unions and parliament that have allowed for health and safety protection in the workplace to have become so enshrined in UK law. Workplace health and safety in the UK dates back to the industrial revolution, where concerns relating to worker health and illness impacting on productivity led to the formation of the trailblazing Factory Acts.

The Industrial Revolution in the late 18th Century saw Britain transition from artisanal, manual forms of production, into a manufacturing powerhouse. This growth was rapid, and a constant strain on resources centering around finding suitable workers. As competition and demand increased, employers began to look for solutions including new machinery and child labour. Child labour offered a cost effective solution but a lack of industrial experience resulted in serious accidents when working with foreign machines or chemicals. With a rapid rise in other work related accidents, including mining fatalities, and unknown effects of chemical working, pressure was placed on the Government to take action against companies who did not protect their employees effectively.

Factories Act 1833

The first nationwide legislation was the Factories Act 1833. Leading up to this act the British Government had begun introducing a collection of Acts to govern children working in mills. The Factories Acts 1833 rolled out the introduction of factory inspectors, initially to prevent injury and child labour. For the first time, an external set of rules was governing employees' safety in the workplace. Over the next century this act would evolve to include workshops and similar workplace environments, constantly seeking to improve the conditions of workers and initial labour laws.

The Factory Acts of the Nineteenth Century came into force to inspect and analyse working conditions and effectively closed down all health-impacting conditions and procedures by impounding them into law over a number of years. Worker compensation would not arrive in Europe (specifically Germany) until late on in the century, but its existence heralded a new age of occupational health and safety as it set a major precedent for other countries across Europe and North America.

Health and Safety at Work Act 1974

Beyond this, health and safety legislation evolved into the 20th century and eventually resulted in the creation of the wide-reaching Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974, which has provided legal precedence in aiding the inspection and auditing of workplaces across all industries - from manufacturing to healthcare - and continues to provide the foundation for any amendments that may arise from concerns over workers' rights. In recent years, the concept of risk assessment has been enshrined into health and safety legislation to gain a better understanding of what may cause certain employees to potentially require sick leave - a process that effectively acts as a preventative measure that protects both employer and employee.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 was the first major labour law that not only governed all workplaces but also placed a greater accountability on both the employer and employee. This legislation truly brought health and safety into the conscience of the workplace and has resulted in improvements of both working conditions and a reduction in workplace accidents. For the first time, employers understood their legal responsibility whereby failing to protect workers could result in fines and even criminal charges if breached. This resulted in greater investment in the improvement of workplace conditions and injury/illness prevention methods. But the new Act also empowered employees who now had to understand their own responsibilities. Health and safety training in every workplace is commonplace, and a legal requirement, today in large part because of this act.

Health and Safety Today

Occupational health and safety within the UK has evolved from concerns during the industrial dark age into an all-encompassing piece of legislation that protects employer interests and employee health - and which also ensures that all workplaces are considered safe to operate and work in.

In modern times we enjoy much improved working conditions than previous generations. In 2013/14 some 133 workplace deaths were sadly recorded, which is 0.44 for every 100,000 workers. But this figure is half the amount of workplace deaths in 1994/95 which clearly demonstrates the results of continuous improvement in recent times. To prevent a return to the dark days of the past however, we need to continue our training, understanding and appreciation of the importance of health and safety at work. History shows this is the only successful approach for our working society to maintain these improvements.

Selected Courses

Please see below for a selection of health and safety courses and qualifications which you may be interested in:

NEBOSH National Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety

The NEBOSH National Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety is the flagship NEBOSH qualification, and is the first UK vocational qualification to be developed specifically for health and safety professionals.

The NEBOSH National Diploma provides the core health and safety knowledge (transferable across industry, commerce and the public sector) which, combined with understanding and appropriate application, underpins the competent performance of an occupational health and safety practitioner.

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NEBOSH National General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety

The NEBOSH General Certificate is one of the most popular and widely-held health and safety qualifications in the UK. It is intended to be taken by managers, supervisors and any other employees who require an understanding of general health and safety issues.

The NEBOSH General Certificate covers the main legal requirements for health and safety in the UK, along with the identification and control of workplace hazards, and the practical application of this knowledge. The general content of the NEBOSH General Certificate syllabus means it is suitable and relevant for those working in virtually any industry, and is often used as a solid foundation for those going on to further study and specialising in a particular area such as construction site health and safety or fire safety.

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IOSH Managing Safely Course

The IOSH Managing Safely course is designed for managers and supervisors of organisations in virtually all industry sectors, in order to give them all they need to know to effectively manage health and safety in the workplace.

Recently updated, the new high impact programme covers key health and safety issues, and includes references to international case studies.

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CITB Site Management SMSTS Course

The Site Management Safety Training Scheme (SMSTS) is one of the most popular health and safety training courses, and is intended for construction site managers, project managers and senior supervisors, as well as proprietors of smaller companies.

Client-based personnel would also benefit from attending the SMSTS course.

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