The Most Important Law of Our Generation? – The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

This year’s Injury Awareness Week comes in the lead up to the 50th anniversary of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, and so the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) are highlighting injuries suffered in the workplace.

According to the Labour Force Survey for Great Britain during 2022/23, 561,000 workers were injured in the workplace in the UK, with agriculture, construction and accommodation/food services recording the largest share of workplace injuries. Such injuries range from smaller accidents, such as slips and falls, to more serious involving machinery or hazardous materials.

What is the Health and Safety at Work Act?

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 is a crucial piece of legislation for workplaces in the UK, ensuring all employers provide a safe working environment and look after the health of their employees ‘as far as is reasonably practicable.’ The act sets out key responsibilities that employers have towards their workforce, such as providing adequate training, correct equipment and carrying out risk assessments to name but a few. Employees also have duties under the act such as being required to cooperate, take on board training and carry out procedures safely and correctly. Enforcement of the Health and Safety at Work Act is carried out by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), whose aim is to prevent workplace death, injury or ill health.

Why is the Health and Safety at Work Act so important?

Legislation pre-dating the Health and Safety at Work Act had limited scope as to who was protected. Even though the Employers Liability Act 1880 gave legal protection to workers for accidents caused by their employers’ negligence, most health and safety legislation focused on areas of manual labour, and by 1970 there were still five million workers without any kind of safeguards under the law. As the impact workplace injuries have on individuals and organisations is significant, whether this be through physical harm, emotional distress or financial repercussions, it was crucial that a piece of legislation was brought in to combat the rising numbers of accidents at work.

Is the Health and Safety at Work Act effective?

The Health and Safety at Work Act has had an undeniably positive impact on the number of accidents at work by simplifying the regulatory regime and building a foundation for the wellbeing of people in the workplace. According to recent HSE statistics the number of fatal injuries in the workplace has reduced by a staggering 90% and non-fatal by 77% since the introduction of the act. As well as this, the act has also led to the development of further, more modernised regulations such as the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992, which provides workers with guidelines against less obvious risks from office work, such as musculoskeletal disorders.

More needs to be done?

Despite being successful in reducing the number of workplace injuries, more needs to be done on top of the Health and Safety at Work Act to reduce the needless injuries that could still be avoided in the workplace, with some having life changing consequences.

Injury Awareness Week provides a dedicated time to educate the public about the various types of workplace injuries, consequences and the ways to mitigate risks with the annual campaign empowering individuals to take control of their well-being at work and instigate long-term changes in workplace safety practices. Keep an eye out on APIL’s X, Instagram, and LinkedIn feeds, as well as their Facebook page for more information!

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