Researched and Written by David Watters
Historical Development of Health and Safety Law
Employers are obliged in law to provide a safe and healthy workplace. This gives rights to the employee who, in turn has a set of responsibilities for his/her own safety and that of his/her colleagues.
Health and Safety Legislation protects the safety and well being of both employers and employees and has a long and interesting history. Initially Labour Laws were put in place to protect women and children and in modern times Health and Safety is much broader and includes employers, employees, customers, contactors and suppliers of any age and gender.
The Factory and Workshop Acts 1878 to 1895 is the collective title of the Factory and Workshop Act 1878, the Factory and Workshop Act 1883, the Cotton Cloth Factories Act 1889, the Factory and Workshop Act 1891 and the Factory and Workshop Act 1895. These were a series of Acts to limit the number of hours worked by women and children, initially in the textile industry, and then later in all other industries.
Prior to this came the Factories Act 1802, sometimes also called the “Health and Morals of Apprentices Act”, a culmination of a movement originating in the 1700s, where reformers had tried to push several acts through Parliament to improve the health of the workers and apprentices. The Factories Act 1802 regulated factory conditions, with particular regard to children in both cotton and woollen mills.
The 1819 Cotton Mills and Factories Act stated that no children under 9 were to be employed and that children aged 9-16 years were limited to 12 hours’ work per day.
In an attempt to establish a regular working day in the textile industry, labour of children was further addressed in the Factory Act 1833. The act had the following provisions:
Children (ages 14-18) must not work more than 12 hours a day with an hour lunch break. Note that this enabled employers to run two ‘shifts’ of child labour each working day in order to employ their adult male workers for longer.
Children (ages 9-13) must not work more than 8 hours with an hour lunch break.
Children (ages 9-13) must have two hours of education per day.
Outlawed the employment of children under 9 in the textile industry.
Children under 18 must not work at night.
provided for routine inspections of factories.
The Factories Act 1844 further reduced hours of work for children and applied the many provisions of the Factory Act of 1833 to women. The act applied to the textile industry and included the following provisions:
Children 9-13 years could work for six hours a day.
Women and young people now worked the same number of hours. They could work for no more than 12 hours a day during the week, including one and a half hours for meals, and 9 hours on Sundays.
Factory owners must wash factories with lime every fourteen months.
Ages must be verified by surgeons.
Accidental death must be reported to a surgeon and investigated.
Thorough records must be kept regarding the provisions of the act.
Machinery was to be fenced in.
Originating from the Ten Hour Bill (also known as the Ten Hour Act), The Factory Act 1847 limited the work week in textile mills for women and children under 18 years of age. The working week contained 63 hours effective 1 July 1847 and was reduced to 58 hours effective 1 May 1848. This law limited the workday to 10 hours.
With the Factory Act 1850, established under the Factory Acts of 1844 and 1847, employers could no longer decide the hours of work. The workday was changed to correspond with the maximum number of hours that women and children could work.
Again, the Factory Act 1874 reduced the workday in the textile industry to 9 and a half hours.
The Factory and Workshop Act 1878 consolidated all previous Acts. This meant that the Factory Code applied to all trades; no child anywhere under the age of 10 was to be employed; compulsory education for children up to 10 years old; 10-14 year olds could only be employed for half days and that women were to work no more than 56 hours per week.
Next came the Factory Act 1891 which was followed by the Factory and Workshop Act 1901, in which the minimum working age was raised to 12. This act also introduced legislation regarding education of children, meal times, and fire escapes.
The 1937 Act consolidated and amended the Factory and Workshop Acts from 1901 to 1929.
Next came the Factories Act 1959 and the Factories Act 1961
The Factories Act 1961 consolidated much legislation on workplace health, safety and welfare and although some of it remains in force, it has largely been superseded by the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974
The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSWA, HASWA or HASAWA) defines the fundamental structure and authority for the encouragement, regulation and enforcement of workplace health, safety and welfare.
This Act defines general duties on employers, employees and contractors, suppliers of goods and substances for use at work, persons in control of work premises, and those who manage and maintain them. It established a system of public supervision through the creation of the HSC and HSE (Health and Safety Commission and Health and Safety Executive), which have since merged, and bestows extensive enforcement powers, ultimately backed by criminal sanctions extending to unlimited fines and imprisonment for up to two years. In addition, the Act provides a critical interface with the EU on workplace health and safety.
Between 1974 and 2007, the number of fatal injuries to employees fell by 73 per cent; the number of reported non-fatal injuries fell by 70 per cent. Between 1974 and 2007, the rate of injuries per 100,000 employees fell by a huge 76 per cent, and Britain had the lowest rate of fatal injuries in the European Union in 2003, which is the most recent year for which figures are available. The EU average was 2.5 fatalities per 100,000 workers; the figure in the UK was 1.1.
In addition, there have been many other laws passed and requirements introduced to ensure safe working environments and practices. These include, First Aid Regulations between 1981 and 1991, Compulsory Employers Liability Insurance, Noise at Work and Electricity at Work Acts 1989.
The UK joined the EEC in 1973 which, since 1992 is known as the EU (European Union). Many of the UK regulations relating to health, safety and welfare at work give effect to EU Directives. These European regulations are applicable to individuals and establishments in all member states.
The Working Time Directive
The European commission introduced the working time directive in 1993 to work alongside member states’ employment laws.
Primarily designed to safeguard workers’ rights, these directives put a limit on the number of hours that should be worked each week and specifies how long breaks should be, as well as legislating specifically for night-time working.
Employees have the right to:
· A maximum working week of 48 hours
· A rest period of 11 consecutive hours a day
· A rest break when the day is longer than six hours
· A minimum of one rest day per week
· The statutory right to four weeks’ holiday
In addition to this:
· Night working must not average out at more than eight hours at a stretch
· Workers will be entitled to a free health check-up before being employed on night work and at regular intervals thereafter
The Working Time Directive was reluctantly adopted in Britain in 1998, following the loss of a court battle in 1996.
The Conservative government had argued that working time was not a health and safety provision under the EU treaties and should not be subject to regulation at EU level.
Labour supported the directive in opposition, saying it would help restore a fair balance between the rights and responsibilities of employers and employees but showed less enthusiasm since gaining power.
The directive has since been extended by a complex piece of legislation called the horizontal amending directive, which was applied to UK law in 2003 to include most of these workers, giving them some or all of the rights. Junior doctors have only been included since August 1 2004.
There is an opt-out clause which has allowed member states to put in place measures allowing individuals to agree not to be subject to the 48-hour working limit. In other words, they can work for longer if they want to. Britain was the only country at the time to take this action after the negotiations in 1993.
Other countries have since put some measures in place for specific areas of work, but Britain has made the most widespread use of it.
The individual opt-out comes with conditions: employees have to formally agree to waive their right to work a maximum of 48 hours a week, and a refusal to do so cannot entail negative consequences.
The British government has argued that the individual’s right to choice on the opt-out should not be scrapped, pointing out that more than a million people would lose out on paid overtime if they had to stop working extra hours. It claims that getting rid of the opt-out would lead to higher costs for business, bring about job cuts and have a negative impact on British industry.
Union officials say that having an opt-out could lead to widespread abuse, including, at worst, law breaking, and at best, confusion among businesses. The unions claim it is far too easy for employers to pressurise staff to work more than 48 hours a week.
The unions also argue that better management and “smart working” are far more effective tools in producing results than working long hours – for both businesses and employees – since long working hours cause bad health and stress. Consequently, employers do not get the best out of workers.
According to the TUC, 3.3 million employees currently work longer than 48 hours a week.
Employees who opt to work longer than 48 hours a week are subject to a cap of 60 hours, although this is worked out as an average across three months, allowing them to work for even longer in busier periods.
Employers will no longer be allowed to ask staff to sign waivers within one month of beginning employment, and will not be permitted to penalise staff who refuse to work longer or who later decide to opt out.
Employers must also keep records when the working hours of opted-out workers exceed 48 hours a week.
The Role of the Health and Safety Executive:
Functions, Duties and Powers
The mission of the HSE is “to prevent death, injury and ill health in Great Britain’s workplaces.” This is achieved through research, provision of information and advice, promotion of training, the creation of revised regulations and codes of practice, inspection, investigation and enforcement.
The HSE work with a variety of international bodies including the Directorates General of Commission, the European Agency for Health and Safety at Work, Eurostat and the European Committee for Standardisation on matters of occupational health and safety law (OSH).
The Framework Management Statement between The Department for Work and Pensions, The Health and Safety Commission and The Health and Safety Executive states that the functions of the HSE are “proposing and setting necessary standards (on which HSC is advised by the Executive); through HSE, securing compliance with those standards; and undertaking other forms of activity designed to stimulate or support necessary action on the part of people and organisations that create potential harm.”
The same document lists the HSE’s duties as “submitting proposals for regulations to Ministers after consultation with appropriate Government Departments and other bodies; arranging for the provision of information and advice to Ministers amongst others; arranging for the operation of an information and advisory service; arranging for research to be carried out, the publication of the results and the provision of training and information in connection with these purposes; and paying to the Executive sums considered appropriate for HSE to perform its functions” and powers to include approving and issuing codes of practice, with the consent of the relevant Secretary of State and subject to consultation with appropriate Government Departments and other bodies; giving guidance to Local Authorities on enforcement; directing HSE, or authorising any other person, to investigate and report on accidents or other matters and, subject to regulations being made by the relevant Minister, directing inquiries to be held; appointing committees.
Employer and Employee Responsibilities
Section 2 of the The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 states that “It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees”, and in particular that such a duty extends to:
- 1. Provision and maintenance of plant and systems of work that are, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health;
- 2. Arrangements for ensuring, so far as is reasonably practicable, safety and absence of risks to health in connection with the use, handling, storage and transport of articles and substances;
- 3. Provision of such information, instruction, training and supervision as is necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of his employees;
- 4. So far as is reasonably practicable as regards any place of work under the employer’s control, the maintenance of it in a condition that is safe and without risks to health and the provision and maintenance of means of access to and egress from it that are safe and without such risks;
- 5. Provision and maintenance of a working environment for his employees that is, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe, without risks to health, and adequate as regards facilities and arrangements for their welfare at work.
Section 3 states the duty of all employers and self employed persons to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable the safety of persons other than employees, for example, contractors, visitors, the general public and clients.
Employers must also prepare and keep under review a safety policy and to bring it to the attention of his employees (s.2(2)). Trade unions may appoint safety representatives and demand safety committees. The representatives have a right to be consulted on safety issues (ss.2(4), (6) and (7)). Since 1996 employers have had a duty to consult all employees on safety matters. No employer may charge an employee for provision of health and safety arrangements (s.9).
Primary responsibilities of an employee are to, in general, take reasonable care of personal health and safety, that of colleagues and the public.
More specifically this can involve, avoiding wearing loose clothing, jewellery and having hair tied back or in a scarf if operating machinery; cooperation with management to understand Health and Safety Policies and to attain specific training on safe working practices; not to misuse anything provided for health, safety or welfare; to report any illness or injury which may be a result of working conditions and to inform employer if a change in your health, such as pregnancy, taking of medication or injury, alters your ability to carry out your duties safely.
How the law affects my workplace
The Health and Safety Policy at GCC states in the GENERAL STATEMENT OF POLICY:
Greenwich Community College accepts its obligations under The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and related legislation to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of its employees and of the persons other than employees who may be affected by its activities.
Particular attention is paid to:-
- Reducing risk to all learners
- Plant, equipment and systems of work that are safe and without risk to health
- Safe arrangements for the use, handling, storage and transport of articles and substances
- Sufficient information, instruction, training and supervision to enable all employees to avoid hazards and contribute positively to their own health and safety at work
- A safe place of work without risk to health and with safe access to the egress from it
- A working environment which is safe without risk to health
- Adequate welfare facilities
- The allocation of duties for safety matters and the particular arrangements which are made to implement the policy statement
- All teaching staff are directly responsible for the health and safety of the students they are teaching. If they are unable to ensure the duty of care to the students in this regard they should alert their line manager and agree an alternative course of action
- The policy will be kept up to date, particularly as the business changes in nature and size. To ensure this, the policy and the way in which it has operated will be reviewed annually
The Working Time Directive states that employees are entitled to a maximum working week of 48 hours, a rest period of 11 consecutive hours a day, a rest break when the day is longer than six hours, a minimum of one rest day per week and the statutory right to four weeks’ holiday.
Mostly, this is adhered to but there are times when the working day is extended (enrolment evening followed by induction day for example). In my case, I was the only member of staff from Performing Arts who was scheduled to enroll students; making it impossible to take time out for adequate breaks.
Many staff find themselves in a work-related activity instead of scheduled breaks. It is rare that I have a morning or afternoon break and, most days, lunch is no more than 15 minutes. This is because, besides teaching, I am also a personal tutor and will have student concerns to deal with (one to one support/guidance, calling/emailing colleagues in support services, mental health workers, parents etc).
There are times throughout the year, when we are performing, that make it necessary for me to teach a normal working day and continue through to a late evening performance. These days also involve a great deal of heavy lifting (props, costume and equipment) with little to no support.
Although I would not class myself fully as a lone worker, I do work alone at specific times in each day.
The majority of my day is spent teaching but when fulfilling my role as coordinator, I am alone. This situation raises a number of concerns and will form the basis of my Risk Assessment.
To conclude, the laws regarding Health and Safety at work do impact upon the policies and procedures at Greenwich Community College but there are areas in need of further improvement. It is because of the size of the company, or rather that there are so many satellite sites, that there is an element of conflict between policy and procedure.