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Safety At Work

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On 31 July 1974 the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act received royal assent and brought in a new legal framework for protecting employees and the public from work activities.

The Health and Safety at Work, Act 1974 led to the modern approach to workplace safety of conducting risk assessments, that is, looking for hazards and dealing with them before employees are injured, in contrast with the old approach of carrying out an accident investigation once it was too late and people had already been hurt.

Health and safety is about taking sensible precautions in the workplace, and those companies whose work activities create the risks need to manage the risks to prevent accidents.

40 years later since July 1974, the number of fatal accidents at work has reduced by 85% from 651 in 1974 to 148 in 2012, and the total number of injuries suffered at work by 77% from 336,701 in 1974 to 78,222 injuries in 2012.

Safety standards at work have significantly improved since 1974 and, together with the huge decline in heavy industry where there were high-risk work activities, such as shipbuilding and iron and steel making, has led to a major reduction in workplace accidents.

Great Britain is regarded as one of the safest places to work in the world, however, there were still 78,222 injuries suffered at work in 2012 that were reported to the government’s Health and Safety Executive. This is the statistic for the accidents reported to the HSE and there will also have been a significant number of accidents going unreported.

A complacent approach should not be taken to workplace safety otherwise it creates the risk of employees suffering accidents. The HSE continues to prosecute companies that carry out activities in breach of the 1974 Act and the safety regulations.

A recent example of this is the HSE prosecuting in the magistrate’s court a roofing company that carried out work unsafely and in breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. The roofing company had been doing temporary repairs to the roof of a building on a business park and a 23-year-old worker fell through a fragile roof to the ground below, sustaining multiple injuries, including a fractured skull and a fractured wrist.

The roofing company pleaded guilty to being in breach of the Work at Height Regulations and received a fine of £17,500 and was ordered to pay £7,077 costs by the magistrates. The roofing company had clearly failed to properly assess the risks of undertaking the work to repair the roof and failed to provide its employees with suitable equipment, such as platforms, to enable the work to be safely carried out.

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