Explanation of Health and Safety at Work Act 1974

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA), is the primary legislation covering occupational health and safety in the United Kingdom. The Health and Safety Executive is responsible for enforcing the Act.

Health and Safety at Work Act 1974

The aim of the HSWA is to ensure practical compliance and help organisations understand and implement an ‘organisational intent’ to support health and safety. In particular the requirement for a health and safety policy enables the safety management structure to be publicised so all employees know how health and safety is dealt with.

It begins in 1800. Imagine that you are six years old and working in a cotton mill. There is an outbreak of malignant fever, which leaves many around you dead or dying. Physician Thomas Percival studies this and sends his recommendations to parliament.

The Health and Morals of Apprentices Act 1802, sometimes known as the Factory Act 1802, places orders upon cotton mill owners with regard to the treatment of apprentices (mostly children) and sets requirements for mill cleanliness.

Although the act was ineffective in its implementation, it did pave the way for future factory acts, which would regulate the industry. The factory acts were a series of acts passed by parliament to limit the number of hours worked by women and children, first in the textile industry, then later in all industries. This sets the backdrop to the eventual Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

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