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Almost 200 years of health and safety regulations: employees still at risk of injury

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has been in existence since 1 January 1975. It was formed with the specific remit of enforcing health and safety legislation in the workplace.

But its roots go back over 180 years to when the first factory inspectors were appointed under the Factories Act 1833. At the time there were just 4 inspectors working across more than 3,000 textile mills.

In 1842 the Mines Act was brought in after a report commissioned to look at conditions in the mines caused a public outcry when it revealed that working in dangerous conditions, very long hours, accidents, lung disease and brutality were the norm.

In 1894 the Quarries Act was introduced and the Quarry Inspectorate was formed.

1965 saw the introduction of the Agriculture (Health, Safety and Welfare Provisions) Act that brought in comprehensive safeguards and protection for those working the land.

In 1959 the Nuclear Installations Act was brought in following an investigation in to a major incident at the Windscale nuclear plant in October 1957.

Then in 1974 the Health and Safety at Work Act, that we still rely on today, came in to force. It was described as “a bold and far reaching piece of legislation”. The Act was supported by guidance and codes of practice and for the first time, employers and employees were involved in designing a modern health and safety system.

So, with health and safety at work being covered by so many Acts, regulations and safe systems of work, it’s shocking to see that employees, across all industries, are still being put at risk of injury, as these recent cases show:

An engineering company was fined £12,000 after a 19-year-old apprentice suffered crush injuries because he was wearing gloves. HSE found that the use of gloves in this case increased the likelihood of hands being drawn into the machine. An HSE inspector commented: “A young man’s life has been changed because his employer failed to ensure adequate training in and supervision of a safe system of work”.

A construction company was fined £300,000 after a worker suffered fatal head injuries in a fall. An investigation found that although the company had identified control measures that would have prevented the accident, safeguards were “virtually absent”. The work was not planned, properly supervised or carried out in a safe manner.

And a waste recycling company was fined £1 million plus costs of £130,000 after one of its workers was run over and killed. Inspectors said that the company had failed to properly assess the risk and had not implemented “industry recognised control measures” to protect their employees.

Diane Parker, personal injury solicitor, commented: “Health and safety regulations are there for a reason, yet these cases illustrate a blatant disregard for the safety of employees.
It will be of little comfort to those affected, but in addition to the hefty fines imposed by HSE, all these companies are likely to face further financial penalties in the form of personal injury compensation claims, from either the injured worker or the family of the deceased.”