Health And Safety Act’s 40th Anniversary ‘A Celebration And A Catalyst For Further Improvements’

Legal Experts Warns Against Complacency In Effort To Protect Workers

16.07.2014

Lawyers representing victims of workplace injury and illness have described the 40th anniversary of the introduction of the Health and Safety At Work Act etc 1974 as an important time to reflect on the advances made in the area, but also a reminder of the work which still must be done on the issue.

The landmark legislation – designed to protect workers from the risk of injury or illness – received Royal Assent in 1974, with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) stating that the number of fatalities to those covered by the regulations at the time stood at 651.

Provisional data from the HSE released this month revealed that this figure stood at just 133 in 2013/14, a drop which highlights the significant impact that the Act has had on improving protection for workers.

However, Irwin Mitchell’s specialist workplace injury lawyers have said that the anniversary – marked by a Parliamentary reception this week – is a timely reminder that while standards have improved, there is no room for complacency on the further prevention of injury and illness at work.

Expert Opinion
The Health and Safety At Work Act etc 1974 has clearly proved itself across the past 40 years as one of the most significant and effective pieces of legislation ever introduced, with the fact that the annual number of fatalities has fallen by more than 500 being a testament to its impact.

"While the protection that the legislation has offered should of course be celebrated, it is also important to reflect on the fact a number of people have still lost their lives or suffered catastrophic injuries down the years in incidents which could and should have been avoided.

"Every single loss of life or serious injury affects not only the victim, but a massive number of people – from friends and family, to the victim’s colleagues and the wider community. The impact that such incidents have should be an important reminder to the Government, the HSE and employers that health and safety should always be the priority in the workplace.”

"Considering the clear effectiveness of this legislation, we continue to have concerns regarding the changes included in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act. The regulations mean anyone seriously injured at work would have to prove themselves that an employer had been negligent.

"We remain worried that this will undermine continued efforts to ensure health and safety is a top priority in the workplace, with the worst case scenario being that the changes lead to a dilution of safety standards which have been in place for the best part of 40 years.

"It is only fair that victims of workplace injury are able to get the safety reassurances and financial support they need to get their lives back on track, so it is vital that the Government recognises this and remembers the initial reasons why health and safety legislation was introduced in the first place."
Stephen Nye, Partner