This year it will be 40 years since the Health and Safety at Work Etc Act 1974 (HSAWA) was introduced. This piece of legislation is the cornerstone of modern health and safety, but health and safety legislation has been around much longer than that.
In a recent newsletter I talked about a blog I had read on the ROSPA web-site. The blog talked about the history of health and safety stretching back to 1772 BC! It continued explaining that the Ancient Babylonians are regarded as the first civilisation to legislate to provide safer working practices, with Law 229 of the Code of Hammurabi: If a builder build a house for a man and do not make its construction firm, and the house which he has built collapse and cause the death of the owner of the house, that builder shall be put to death.
So even nearly 4000 years ago people saw the importance of carrying out work in a safe manner, and had penalties, even if very extreme, if they did not adhere to these laws. But after all these years still hundreds of people are dying or being seriously injured each year as a result of poor health and safety in the workplace.
We do not need more legislation to stop this happening, believe me being the one in our office who has to read legal documents to interpret them into plain English, we have sufficient Acts and Regulations in the UK. The problems lie with employers, and others with legal responsibilities, not assessing the risks in their workplace and ensuring whatever they are planning to do is not going to harm themselves or others. Unfortunately people are now too quick to blame all ‘this new health and safety legislation’ for putting restrictions on your lives, when in fact it probably is not health and safety legislation at all to blame but jobs-worths and over-zealous restrictions from insurance organisations.
There are discussions that within our schools lessons on workplace health and safety should be on the curriculum. Great idea, but should they not be teaching future generations a common sense risk-based approach as well. If you drop a drink on the floor, get a paper towel and wipe it up. If the playground is icy don’t go ‘skidding and sliding’ about on it. If a wall looks too high to jump down from, don’t climb the wall in the first place! I am not for wrapping children up in cotton wool, but teach them about avoiding risks, taking a common sense approach in life and taking responsibility if they do something wrong.
So whether it is 40 years on from the HSAWA or nearly 4000 years since the Code of Hammurabi workplace health and safety legislation is definitely with us to stay. Hopefully jobs-worths, blame culture and lack of common sense are not!
Happy 40th HSAWA.