If asked “What makes you proud to be British?” many people might cite one of the great 19th Century military victories such as Waterloo or Trafalgar, or possibly Britain’s part in the defeat of fascism in WW2, the Battle of Britain being an obvious choice. Other suggestions might include the development of antiseptics and anaesthetics by British surgeons, or the Public Health Act of 1848 and the creation of the NHS in 1948. Then there are the breakthrough scientific discoveries made by Dalton, Davey and Faraday, and we can add to this the great range of English Literature ( that’s the language, as Scots, Irish and Welsh writers were in there too). There is a great deal to be proud of.
We can’t deny that there are other things we are not so proud of, though compiling a Top 20 list is possibly asking for controversy.
On the Health and Safety front, there are many instances of disgraceful behaviour by individuals and by companies, but these do not reflect on the Nation as a whole. In fact, the way these failings have been investigated and prosecuted by the enforcing authorities, and the way in which the Courts have dealt with them with the utmost seriousness, are reasons for being positive about our national approach to Health and Safety, even if it does not coincide with the way it is portrayed in the media.
So taking Health and Safety as an example of something we should be proud of, does our record stand scrutiny? The Factories Acts of the 19th Century look pretty unambitious by today’s standards, but then our standards are very different from those of 1830, when working people had no vote, little education, and very few rights of any kind. But while some of the last shreds of the Factories Acts have hung on till very recently, it’s now well over 40 years since the birth of the Jewel in the Health and Safety Crown: The Health and Safety at Work Act (
HSWA) 1974. Though this preceded both its Irish equivalent, and the European Framework Directive by several years, it came just a few years after the American OSH Act of 1970, prior to which American workplace safety was in widespread failure with a far worse accident rate than the UK. American workers badly needed this legislation, and many of them are proud of OSHA, though it is frequently criticised for being out of date.
The UK has also built up an important body of Case Law, and one of the most significant examples of this is the ‘snail in the bottle’ case, which established the Duty of Care, an idea that has shaped Health and Safety since 1932. Case Law also gave us the outlines of many of the Duties spelt out in the HSWA 1974. Anyone involved in Health and Safety ( and that’s actually all of us) should be aware to a greater or lesser extent of these Duties.
There are Duties for everybody, employer, worker, supplier, landlord, and self-employed. There are a few ‘prohibitions’ such as not interfering with safety provision, or not charging for PPE, but most of these Duties are basic requirements to behave responsibly. Ensuring a safe place of work, co-operating with the employer, or supplying equipment that is fit for use, are not unreasonable things to require.
Other countries such as Ireland and Australia, and countries in the Middle East and much of Africa, have taken their lead from the UK. Given Britain’s long experience as an industrial nation, and with its expertise in technical and legislative areas, this is not surprising. Britain has added to its legal framework since 1974 by bringing forward Regulations and periodically updating and revising them, and probably has the most advanced Health and Safety legislation in the world. In addition, it has some of the world’s leading practitioners belonging to some of the world’s principal Institutions, IOSH being the largest.
Whether or not you belong to IOSH, RoSPA, or BSC, or any other professional body, as a health and Safety practitioner you are part of this body of Law, experience, and professionalism that has seen Britain achieve the status of being one of the safest places in the world to work. This was hard-won, and can only be maintained by hard work. But surely, this is something to be genuinely proud of.