How Have British Health And Safety Laws Evolved Over Time?

British health and safety law in the workplace is always changing. New laws and legislation are enacted to keep the country’s workers safe as they carry out their roles. However, due to this ongoing evolution, it can be difficult to keep up with new health and safety laws as they’re put into place.

That’s why we’ve put this guide together. We’re going to take you through some of the key health and safety law updates through the years.

If you have any questions as you read, feel free to contact us and ask. Read on to learn about the health and safety laws at work throughout history.

how have health and safety laws changed

Choose An Era By Selecting A Section

  1. Early Health And Safety Laws In The Workplace
  2. More Recent Health And Safety Laws In The Workplace – The Robens Report
  3. British Health And Safety Laws In The UK – The 1990s
  4. The Importance Of Health And Safety Law Updates

Early Health And Safety Laws In The Workplace

At the dawn of the 19th century, the first piece of legislation for factory workers was introduced. It was called the Health and Morals of Apprentices Act and was passed in 1802.

The Act’s chief promoter was Sir Robert Peel – a factory owner himself, and also an MP. He promoted the Act due to his concerns regarding the working conditions of his employees. The Act was a notable event in the history of British health and safety law.

This early factory legislation applied to apprentices up to the age of 21. It was intended to prevent them from having a working day of over 12 hours, amongst other improvements.

Unfortunately, the Act was difficult to enforce. The factories started to undergo inspections. However, those conducting them would often have a pre-existing relationship with the owner of the factory in question.

Further Work By Peel

Peel didn’t stop at the Health and Morals of Apprentices Act. He went on to campaign for further legislation to be passed for younger factory workers.

Although he succeeded, the new legislation (The Cotton Mills Act of 1819), remained just as difficult to enforce.

These early campaigns for improvements to the law for health and safety were an important stepping stone for the improved safety standards that the country’s workforce enjoys today.

More Recent Health And Safety Laws In The Workplace – The Robens Report

Fast-forward to 1969, and Labour politician Barbara Castle appoints someone to chair a workplace safety committee. The person chosen was a man named Lord Alfred Robens, the Baron of Woldingham at the time.

The next year, the Conservative party was in power, but the Baron remained as the chair of the committee. Robens is said to have super-charged the safety system in the workplace, which was becoming an increasingly dangerous place to be for a lot of the country’s employees.

Under Robens’ guidance, a body called the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was introduced by combining various pre-existing arms of the government. The intention of the HSE was to streamline all the confusing regulations and statutes being applied to individual places of work.

The focus was instead placed on the risk of work itself in a more general manner. Before, efforts were put into trying to address and prevent each possibility of injury at each individual workplace. This new, simplified approach proved effective.

The Health And Safety At Work Etc. Act 1974

In time, the formation of the HSE resulted in a key piece of legislation being passed. The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, is hailed by many as timeless. The principles it’s built on are said to be flexible and future-proof due to the understanding that risks in the workplace will change over time.

For example, section 2 of the Act establishes an employer’s duty of care to their employees. It states that an employer must take all reasonably practicable steps to avoid their employees sustaining an injury. Specific risks and injuries are not mentioned, meaning the duty of care can be upheld by any employer.

Although Robens didn’t initially consider mental health to be a serious concern at the time, modern interpretations of the act can take psychological issues into account as well. The Act also addresses concepts that are especially relevant today, such as an employer’s responsibility to an employee when the latter is working at home.

British Health And Safety Laws In The UK – The 1990s

British law for health and safety took some very positive steps in the 1990s. Various pieces of legislation were passed, adding to the ever-increasing safety in the workplace. There’s a list below consisting of some of the key pieces of legislation from the decade.

The pieces of legislation themselves are very detailed. We have only provided a brief summary of each.

New Health And Safety Laws in 1992

  • Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 – These Regulations ensured that appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was supplied to the employee by their employer if it was necessary for their safety. The employees must not be charged for this equipment and must be trained in how to use it properly. The Regulations were amended in 2022.
  • Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 – This legislation enforced the safety of those undertaking tasks involving manual handling. Not only did it address each employee’s abilities, but also whether or not the task being asked of them was strictly necessary.
  • Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 – Working with display screens can cause issues with eyesight and other injuries such as Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI). Here, there are steps that an employer should take to reduce the impact or risk of these injuries to their employees.
  • Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 – Issues such as ventilation and heating in the workplace were addressed. Facilities such as toilets being made available were also included in these Regulations. Safe passageways free of trip hazards are also mentioned.

Other Changes To the Law In Health And Safety From 1995-1999

  • The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases And Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 – Often abbreviated to RIDDOR, these regulations focused on the employer’s responsibility to report the injuries, near misses, and deaths of their employees in the workplace. Not all injuries are required to be reported, but more serious ones such as fractures and amputations must be reported to the HSE. RIDDOR was amended in 2013.
  • The Working Time Regulations 1998 – Here, the length of an employee’s working day and hours per week were capped. Although, there were differences in the laws between employees under and over 18 years old. Rest breaks and intervals between working days were also established.
  • The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 – Under these Regulations, all equipment and machinery must be suitable and maintained to a standard that is safe for employees to use.
  • Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 – Here, extra attention was paid to the prevention of injury and the maintenance of a safe working environment. A written safety policy was to be made available to staff, as well as training.

The Importance Of Health And Safety Law Updates

As we look back to the early 1800s and compare the law for health and safety in the workplace to the present day, it’s easy to see the progress that has been made.

Those early pieces of legislation were pivotal. That groundwork needed to be laid so that future generations could enjoy the improved conditions put into place by law as time progressed.

At present, there are numerous pieces of legislation that look out for the interests and safety of employees across the country, regardless of their field of work. Additionally, this legislation can be, and is, revisited when amendments are necessary.

Thank you for reading our guide on the history of British health and safety law. Feel free to reach out and contact us if you have any questions.