Health and safety timeline: 200 years of progress

19 Aug 2014
Health and safety timeline
Child factory workers in 1909. Photograph: Lews Hine

Health and safety has a long and not always noble history. The Health and Safety at Work Act marks only the last 40 years in a 200 year history. From the first legislation in 1802, it has been a rocky road to get to where we are today.

Factory Act 1802
The UK’s first law to protect the welfare of people at work. Pauper apprentices were prohibited from night work and their labour limited to 12 hours a day.
Factories Act 1831
Limited working day to 12 hours for those under 18.
Factories Act 1833
Made provisions for the enforcement of the law by government-appointed inspectors, known as the HM Factory Inspectorate, whose main duty was protecting children from injury and overwork. Four inspectors were appointed. It also extended a young person’s maximum 12-hour working day to woollen and linen mills.

Priestley v. Fowler 
Established in common law an employer owes a duty of care to employees.


Coal Mines Act 1842
Prohibited women and children from working in underground mines and allowed for the appointment of a coal mines inspector.

Factories Act 1844
Required the safeguarding of mill gearing and prohibited the cleaning of machinery in motion.

Factories Act 1847
Stipulated women and children could work no more than 63 hours a week.

Factory Acts (Extension) Act 1867
All factories with more than 50 employees and other specified industries, such iron and steel mills, subject to existing legislation.

Factory and Workshop Act 1878
Consolidated all previous acts and applied the factory code to all trades. No child under the age of 10 was to be employed and children aged 10–14 years could only be employed for half days. Women were prohibited from working more than 56 hours in a week.

Threshing Machines Act 1878
First legislative steps towards safety in agriculture.

Employers’ Liability Act 1880
Gave workers protection for accidents caused by the negligence of managers.

Factory Act 1891
Made requirements for fencing machinery more stringent.

Quarry inspectorate formed

Workman’s Compensation Act 1897
Introduced payments by employers to employees in certain industries who suffered injury “arising out of and in the course of employment”.

Coal Mines Act 1911
Required mine owners to make provision for rescuing workers

Establishment of the British Industrial ‘Safety First’ Association
BISFA, which later became RoSPA, was established to tackle workplace safety on a national scale.

Factories Act 1937
Provided a comprehensive code for safety, health and welfare applicable to all factories.

Safety First movement taken into the Ministry of Labour to help with safety in war production.

Formation of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA)

Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) established

Health, Welfare and Safety in Non-Industrial Employment Hours of Employment of Juveniles: Report by a Committee of Enquiry
Recommended that safety, health and welfare legislation be extended over a wide field of non-industrial employment.

Edwards v. National Coal Board
Established the concept of “reasonable practicability”. The case established the risk must be balanced against ‘sacrifice’, whether in money, time or trouble, needed to avert or mitigate the risk. This effectively implied a requirement for risk assessment.

Mines and Quarries Act 1954
Imposed an extensive safety regime, extending to equipment, places, access, egress, processes, specific hazards, methods of working, laid statutory duties on mine managers.

Agriculture (Safety, Health and Welfare Provisions) Act 1956
Introduced comprehensive health protection and safeguards for agricultural workers and for children who may come into contact with agricultural machinery, equipment or vehicles.


Windscale nuclear site fire
On 8 October 1957 the core of a reactor at Windscale (now Sellafield) caught fire, releasing radioactive contamination into the surrounding area. It was, and still is, the UK’s worst nuclear event. The investigation recommended a body should be set up with responsibility for licensing future civil reactors.

British Safety Council founded by James Tye

Nuclear Installations Act 1959
Brought about the establishment of the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate within the Ministry of Power.

Six Bells Colliery disaster (45 fatalities)
On 28 June an explosion caused by an ignition of firedamp killed 45 workers at Six Bells Colliery in Monmouthshire, South Wales.

Offices Act 1960
Introduced some statutory protection for shop and office workers.

Factories Act 1961
Contained power to make regulations governing processes and plant.

Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act 1963
Gave statutory protection to the largest remaining group of unprotected workers.

The Aberfan disaster (144 fatalities)
On 21 October a collapse of a colliery spoil tip in the Welsh village of Aberfan, near Merthyr Tydfil, killed 116 children and 28 adults. It was caused by a build-up of water in the accumulated rock and shale, which suddenly started to slide downhill in the form of slurry.

Construction (Working Places) Regulations 1966
Stipulated statutory arrangements for safety on building sites.

Employers’ Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969
Required all employers to have insurance to cover potential liability to employees.

Asbestos Regulations 1969
Required employers to provide local exhaust and RPE and keep premises clean when working with asbestos

Employers’ Liability (Defective Equipment) Act 1969
Stipulated that the employer is liable for injury caused by defective equipment unless the fault belonged to a third party manufacturer or supplier.

Committee on Safety and Health at Work (the Robens Committee) report
Proposed the first comprehensive health and safety legislative approach. The report proposed that “those who create the risks are best placed to manage it” and suggested sweeping away the myriad inspectorates and prescriptive regulations in favour of a goal-setting, risk-based approach to health and safety regulation.

Flixborough chemical plant explosion (28 fatalities)
On 1 June 1974 a massive explosion destroyed a large part of the Nypro (UK) Ltd plant at Flixborough, near Scunthorpe, killing 28 people and injuring 36. A chemical pipe ruptured, leaking 400 tonnes of cyclohexane into the fair, forming a huge vapour cloud. On coming into contact with an ignition source, the cloud exploded, completely destroying the plant. Around 1,800 buildings within a mile radius of the site were damaged.

Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
Introduced a new system based on goal-setting regulations, supported by guidance and codes of practice, implementing most of the recommendations of the Robens report. For the first time employers and employees were to be consulted and engaged in the process of designing a modern health and safety system. It also established the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) for the purpose of proposing new regulations, providing information and advice and conducting research. Bill Simpson was appointed as the first chair.

Health and Safety Executive formed
On 1 January 1975 the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the operating arm of HSC, was formed under the leadership of John Locke. HSE’s remit was to enforce health and safety legislation in all workplaces, except those regulated by local authorities.

First HSC advisory committees
HSC set up the first of a number of tripartite advisory committees with a view to drawing upon the expertise of industry, specialist organisations and workers’ representatives.

Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 
Established the right of a recognised trade union to appoint safety reps from among the workforce.

Golborne Colliery disaster (10 fatalities)
On 18 March 10 people died and one person was seriously injured when firedamp ignited and exploded in the Plodder Seam at the Golborne Colliery in the Greater Manchester area.

National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health (NEBOSH) established

Pneumoconiosis (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979

Notification of Accidents and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1980
Required employers to keep a record of accidents and certain dangerous occurrences and report these to HSE.

Control of Lead at Work Regulations 1980

Health and Safety (First Aid) Regulations 1981
Stipulated that employers provide equipment for administering first aid to employees if they are injured or become ill at work.

Sir John Cullen appointed chair of HSC

Asbestos (Licensing) Regulations 1983
Introduced a system of licensing work with asbestos.

Abbeystead pumping station (16 fatalities)
On 23 May an explosion occurred at a subterranean valve house in the Lune/Wyre Water Transfer Scheme at Abbeystead in Lancashire, which killed 16 and injured 28 as they took part in an evening visit at the site.

John Rimington appointed director general of HSE

HSE starts to enforce asbestos licensing industry and domestic gas safety

Control of Industrial Major Accident Hazard Regulations 1984

Putney domestic gas explosion (eight fatalities)
On 10 January eight residents were killed in a major explosion at a block of luxury flats in Newnham House, Putney, London. Investigation revealed the explosion was caused by gas leaking into the building from a crack in a cast iron pipe.

Fire at Bradford City Football stadium – Valley Parade (six fatalities)
On 11 May 56 people died and 256 were injured when a fire broke out in the main stand at Valley Parade, the home of Bradford City football club.

Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1985

The Sumburgh disaster (45 fatalities)
On 6 November a helicopter crashed into the sea with a loss of 43 passengers and two crew. The helicopter was on approach to land at Sumburgh Airport Shetland Islands returning workers for the Brent oilfield.

Kings Cross fire (31 fatalities)
On 18 November 31 people died when a fire broke out at London’s King’s Cross underground station. The fire started when a dropped match fell through a gap between escalator treads and skirting boards and set fire to grease and dust that had been allowed to accumulate.

Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 1987
Stipulated that an employer must identify the type of asbestos present and taken steps to mitigate any risks.

Piper Alpha disaster (167 fatalities)
On the evening of 6 July 167 people died in a series of catastrophic explosions and subsequent fire on the Piper Alpha platform. The majority of the emergency systems, including the sprinklers, failed to operate. Structural collapse of the platform quickly followed, causing many of the workers to jump into the sea. Lord Cullen’s subsequent inquiry made a series of recommendations for the future regulation of the offshore installations based on the safety case regime.

Clapham train crash (35 fatalities)
On 12 December two commuter trains collided and were subsequently hit by a third empty train at Clapham junction, killing 35 people and injuring about 500. The subsequent inquiry concluded the main cause was a signal failure due to a wiring fault and it laid the blame on British Rail work practices. The company was later fined £250,000.

Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1988

Electricity at Work Regulations 1989

Noise at Work Regulations 1989

Health and Safety (Enforcing Authority) Regulations 1989

Construction (Head Protection) Regulations 1989


HSE starts to enforce rail safety
Responsibility for railway safety passed from the Department of Transport to HSE following the Railway Inspectorate receiving heavy criticism for their poor protection of rail passengers and failure to employ modern risk assessment techniques.

HSE starts to enforce offshore safety with the introduction of the safety case regulatory regime
HSE’S Offshore Division was established at the recommendation of Lord Cullen’s inquiry into the Piper Alpha offshore explosion in 1988. The safety case regime forced installation operators or owners to prepare a safety case and submit it to HSE for acceptance.

Major regulatory review completed
HSC was charged with undertaking a review of extant health and safety legislation to check whether it was still relevant and necessary in order to reduce the administrative burdens. The review found widespread support for the framework, but thought much of the law was seen as ‘too voluminous, complicated and fragmented’.

‘Six pack’ regulations:

  • Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992
  • Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1992
  • Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992
  • Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992
  • Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992
  • Management of Health and Safety and at Work Regulations 1992

Frank Davies appointed chair of HSC

Chemicals (Hazard Information and Packaging) Regulations 1993


Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 1994
Aimed to reduce the risk of harm to workers who build, use, maintain and demolish structures. Effective planning and management of construction projects, from design concept onwards, placed at the heart of the regulations.

Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1994

Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL) becomes an agency of HSE

Jenny Bacon appointed director general of HSE 

Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995

Construction (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1996

Southall rail disaster (seven fatalities)
On 17 September a high speed train collided with a freight train at Southall East junction. Seven people died and 139 people were injured. Great Western Trains was fined £1.5m in July 1999.

Health and Safety (Enforcing Authority) Regulations 1998

Control of Lead at Work Regulations 1998

Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998

Working Time Regulations 1998

Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1999
Set out responsibilities for operators of plants where scheduled hazardous chemicals are used to prevent major accidents and limit the consequences of major accidents to people and the environment.

Bill Callaghan appointed chair of the Health and Safety Commission

Ladbroke Grove crash (31 fatalities)
On 5 October a passenger train passed a red signal and collided with a high-speed passenger train at Ladbroke Grove in west London, killing 31 people and injuring over 400. Thames Trains was fined £2m and Network Rail Infrastructure (formerly Railtrack Plc) was fined £4m.

Revitalising Health and Safety strategy launched
The strategy marked the start of a 10-year campaign to drive improvements in health and safety across Britain.

Timothy Walker appointed director general of HSE


Potters Bar rail crash (seven fatalities)
On 10 May, a train derailed at high speed at Potters Bar railway station, killing seven and injuring 76. Part of the train ended up wedged between the station platforms and building structures. In 2011 Network Rail was fined £3m.

Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2002

Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002

Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002

Morecambe Bay disaster (21 fatalities)
On the night of 5-6 February 35 cockle pickers, most of whom were Chinese, were cut off by the tide as they worked on the cockle banks on Morecambe Bay. It is thought that 23 of the workers died, although only 21 bodies were recovered.

Explosion at ICL Plastic factory, Maryhill, Glasgow (nine fatalities)
On 11 May nine people were killed in an explosion at the ICL Plastics factory in Maryhill, Glasgow. The explosion occurred when liquefied petroleum gas leaked from an underground metal pipe in the basement of the factory, which caused the building to collapse.

Strategy for Workplace Health and Safety to 2010 and Beyond launched
The strategy set a new direction for the role of HSC, HSE and local authorities to improve poor safety performance, engender greater worker participation, build closer involvement between stakeholders and HSE and provide clearer information and advice in a more accessible way.


Buncefield explosion (43 injuries)
On 11 December a series of explosions occurred at the Buncefield oil storage depot in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire. A large area of the site was engulfed by fire, which burned for several days and released large plumes of black smoke into the atmosphere.

Largest health and safety fine
Utility firm Transco was fined £15m after being found guilty of breaching section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act after a family of four died when a leaking gas pipe exploded, destroying their house in Larkhall, south Lanarkshire, in 1999.

Hampton review published
Published in March 2005, Reducing administrative burdens – effective inspection and enforcement introduced the UK Statutory Code of Practice for Regulators and outlined a series of recommendations with the purpose to promote efficient and effective approaches to regulatory inspection and enforcement. It led to the creation of the Local Better Regulation Office, the forerunner of the Better Regulation Delivery Office.

Geoffrey Podger appointed chief executive of HSE

Work at Height Regulations 2005

Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005

Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005

Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005

HSE issues the management standards for work-related stress

Transfer of responsibility for railway safety from HSE to the Office of the Rail Regulator

Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006

Judith Hackitt appointed as new chair of HSC following the retirement of Bill Callaghan

Responsibility for the Adventure Licensing Authority passes to HSE

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007
Contained provisions allowing for companies to be prosecuted for corporate manslaughter as a result of serious management failures resulting in a gross breach of a duty of care.

Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007

The Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH)
The EU regulations come into force in the UK and across Europe

HSC/HSE merges to form one organisation
The two bodies took the decision to merge their powers and functions to become a new unitary body.

Pesticides Safety Directorate transfers from DEFRA to HSE

Health and Safety (Offences) Act 2008
Made provisions for offenders who break the law to be subjected to higher fines and longer sentences.

One death is too many report
Baroness Rita Donaghy’s inquiry into the causes of fatalities in the construction industry recommended imposing positive duties on directors and appointing a minister for construction.

HSE launches strategy for the health and safety of GB
HSE’s strategy aimed to develop a ‘renewed momentum to improve health and safety performance’ through engaging everyone in improving health and safety and underscoring the importance of leadership.

Common Sense – Common Safety
Lord Young’s report, commissioned by the prime minister David Cameron, set out a series of recommendations for improving the way health and safety is applied in Britain and for reviewing the ‘compensation culture’.

The Notification of Conventional Tower Cranes Regulations 2010
Required employers to inform HSE about conventional tower cranes installed on construction sites.

Launch of the Occupational Safety and Health Consultants Register

The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) launched as an agency of HSE

Good Health and Safety, Good For Everyone published
Further government plans to reform the health and safety system outline how HSE and local authorities will reduce their proactive inspections by a third.

Lőfstedt report published
Professor Ragnar Lőfstedt’s report, Reclaiming health and safety for all, was commissioned as part of the coalition government’s plan to overhaul the health and safety system in Britain. The report considers ways in which health and safety legislation can be consolidated, simplified or reduced. Recommendations include HSE reviewing all guidance and ACOPs and abolishing certain regulations.

First corporate manslaughter conviction
Cotswold Geotechnical becomes the first company to be convicted of corporate manslaughter. It was fined £385,000 for a gross breach that led to the death of geologist Alexander Wright in 2008.

Fee for Intervention (FFI): the Health and Safety (Fees) Regulations 2012
HSE begins its cost recovery scheme for business found to be in “material breach of the law”.

Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012

Health and Safety (Sharp Instruments in Healthcare) Regulations 2013

Health and Safety (Miscellaneous Repeals, Revocations and Amendments) Regulations 2013
Repealed one act and revoked 12 regulations, including the Construction (Head Protection) Regulations 1989 and the Notification of Conventional Tower Cranes Regulations 2010.

Martin Temple’s triennial review
The chair of the manufacturer’s organisation EEF gives HSE endorsement in this government-commissioned review, but says there is “scope for innovation and change”, including becoming more focused on increasing its comercial income and reviewing its cost recovery scheme.

Nuclear regulation leaves HSE
The Office for Nuclear Regulation is established as an independent public corporation following the Energy Act 2013 becoming law.

Health and Safety (Miscellaneous Repeals and Revocations) Regulations 2014
Repealed two acts, including the Factoiries Act 1961, and revokes seven related regulations.