The workforce is almost unrecognisable since the days of mostly factory working. Remote, agile working is the new norm. As I’m sat pair writing this piece with my colleague Andrew from an internet café on my laptop. We reflect on the days where offices were cubicles. Employees in the 1970’s were encouraged to work alone and stay on focussed at all times. This is a world away from the current methods of collaboration and creativity is now encouraged. As my smartphone pings with a message I imagine how the workplaces of the past were a lot less tech orientated. I just about remember the fax machines and vast amounts of paper printouts. You’d often be stuck at your desk on the landline, my children refer to them times as the ‘olden’ days. I once tried to get them to imagine a world where you have to stay in one place to talk to somebody on the telephone. They can’t even contemplate that, as they facetime their friends from anywhere in the world.
In a time where things are fast paced, we often take for granted how quickly and efficiently we can do things. But one fundamental that stayed at the forefront of businesses is Health and safety. Its more than 40 years since the first meeting of The Health and Safety Commission, which took part in October 1974. The laws today are as important as ever in keeping people safe. Who could have foreseen the impact that the health and safety agenda would have on the modern world we live in? Gone are the days of smoking at your desk and where computers took up whole rooms.
The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (also referred to as HSWA, the HSW Act, the 1974 Act or HASAWA) is still the primary piece of legislation covering occupational health and safety in Great Britain. Despite the huge changes that have occurred in the way in which we work. The Health and Safety Executive, with local authorities (and other enforcing authorities) is responsible for enforcing the Act. And also some of other Acts and Statutory Instruments relevant to the working environment.
The enforcement of extra Statutory Instruments (such as the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999) has been largely driven by the need to put in place European Directives. This has seen the introduction of risk assessments which have become a fundamental need in ensuring workplace health and safety.
As the legal framework grew, for a time, health and safety became associated with red-tape and bureaucracy. Portrayed in the press as a system which prevented school children from playing conkers in the playground, health and safety professionals struggled to get the message across about what it all really meant.
Hopefully, things have now improved – with the advent of “sensible health and safety”, there’s a renewed emphasis on health and safety being the means by which potentially risky activities can go ahead. If such risks are identified and adequately controlled, it means that workplaces are free to innovate, introduce new and efficient working processes and importantly, make sure that their workers go home safely at the end of the day.
It speaks volumes that over 40 years have passed and the employer’s “duty of care” as set in the Act, remains in force, essentially forming the foundation which the current health and safety system is built. By embracing the benefits agile and proportionate health and safety management, this principle will be fit for purpose for another 40 years. So, who knows where the next blog will be written, we could be orbiting the Earth, if Health and safety will allow?