Although now in the 21st century we should be demanding better health and safety, but it wasn’t so in the 19th century when ‘climbing boys’ as young as 8 were being used to clean chimneys. Conditions were dirty, dark, dangerous and cramped and some of these boys died as a result. A Committee of the House of Commons heard in 1817 of the terrible and shocking evidence of what was happening to these young boys which led to a parliamentary recommendation prohibiting the use of ‘climbing boys’. However this recommendation was not implemented and children subsequently continued to suffer.
The Factory Act of 1833 banned the employment of children under the age of nine, restricted the working hours of older children and appointed factory inspectors. Between 1844 and 1920 further Acts legislated for the protection of workers in mines and other industries along with reducing the working day to 10 hours and raising the minimum age for workers to 14.
Inevitably during the peak period of industrialisation in nineteenth century Britain workplace death and injury were common place. Mining, railways and canals all inherently had there own tally of accidents and incidents but even into the twentieth century disaster was looming just around the corner. On 20th October 1919 the Levant Mine disaster claimed 31 lives which could have been avoided if reports of juddering and noises coming from the machine which lowered and raised the mine workers in the shaft were listened to. At the time of the accident there were over 100 workers on the ‘man-engine’ and this clearly signifies the importance of a regular system of inspection.
Prescriptive and inflexible early statutes, over 200 years ago, specifying or prohibiting certain actions left no scope for individual differences amongst employers. Despite the introduction of the Factories Act 1961 and the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act 1963 accident rates continued to rise.
‘The Robens Report’, commissioned by the Government led to the adoption of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and a new era in health and safety legislation which was based on the principles of risk assessment and setting targets, rather than compliance with inflexible rules.
There are now a plethora of Laws, Regulations, Approved Codes of Practice, British Standards and Guidance notes pertaining to health, safety, welfare, the environment, security etc which effect our personal and working lives in some form or another.
Human error, malfunction, accidental death, corporate deviance and misconduct; what ever the verdict the outcome remains the same…death, suffering, injury, grief and overwhelming emotion.
Let’s work together on this and not only avoid circuming to the fate of premature death but act to consciously remove or control the hazards and question statements and opinions made by others if we are unsure.