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The UK celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974

July 2014

The British Safety Council Safety Management magazine July 2014 celebrates the Act that changed our working lives. As the Safety Management editor Iris Cepero says:

This special edition marks the 40th anniversary of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

In July 1974, Safety Management magazine, then called Safety and Rescue, dedicated most of its pages to report the consequences of the explosion that one month earlier had destroyed the Nypro chemical plant in Flixborough. “Why did 28 men die?” shouted the front cover, describing what was then the biggest explosion in Britain since the end of the war.

The magazine stressed its hope that the Flixborough tragedy was “the ultimate lesson necessary to awaken authority into heeding the warning safety expert had given for many years”.

Safety and Rescue was right. On 31 July 1974, the Health and Safety at Work etc Act (HSWA) received royal assent. “Work safety: a new era begins”, read one euphoric headline in the September edition.

Four decades later, we can resolutely say that the hopes of the summer of 1974 have not been dashed, a statement backed up by the 19 writers that have contributed to this special edition. The articles you will read in the next pages are different to one another in tone, in the way they scrutinise the current state of occupational health and safety and in their assessment of the challenges of globalisation. Readers will find in these articles both a celebration of the accomplishments of the past four decades and warnings about the risks of complacency. All the authors agree, however, that the HSWA changed the way this country looked after its workforce and recognise its influence in occupational law and practice far beyond British borders.

The HSWA marked the coming of age of occupational health and safety legislation in the UK. As we join the celebrations of its 40th anniversary, we repeat words similar to those we published 40 years ago: what we all enjoy today is the result of a growing social conscience, but the challenges ahead are big and we will fail to appropriately face them unless we are prepared to back them with our money as well as our minds.

See the special edition with the 19 writers’ contributions.