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5 Sep 2017, 8:19

A brief history of industrial safety

In today’s civilised society it can be easy to take personal safety for granted. There are very few dangerous animal predators around, road deaths are at a record low, medical care for many is very good and readily available. On the other hand, industrial accidents are still happening too often, even in the most developed regions of the world. Let’s have a look at how things have changed over the years and consider what needs to happen to effectively implement safety in the industrial workplace.

The good old days?

There is much speculation, for example, about the number of people who died working on building the great Egyptian Pyramids. Obviously, no one can know for sure, but it is likely to be a number that we would not consider acceptable today. Even more recently, in the 19th and 20th centuries, thousands died during the construction of each of the great canals; Suez and Panama. In the UK as late as the 19th century, children were employed in mines and cotton mills and even the 1833 Factory Act only banned children from working in textile factories under the age of nine. From the ages of nine to 13, they were limited to nine hours a day and 48 hours a week. The machinery being used was not guarded to make it safe, so injuries and deaths were very common.

The Factories Act of 1844 was the first piece of legislation to insist that mill gearing should be guarded and that machinery could not be cleaned while in motion.

Momentum gathers

Thankfully, legislation has become gradually more rigorous. The Factory and Workshop Act 1878 extended earlier codes to cover all trades and the minimum working age was raised to 10 years. And in the Factories Act 1891, the rules around fencing of machines was made more stringent. Significant amendments to the Factories Act in 1937 and 1961 brought things closer to modern-day standards, while the Health & Safety at Work Act in 1974 made a leap forward with a change to goal-based regulations supported by guidance and codes of practice.

The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1992 and the implications of the Machinery Directive which have been in place since 1995 provide us with a framework for safety in machinery. To be sold in Europe now, any product or machine must have undergone an effective risk assessment process and show a CE mark to demonstrate compliance with the relevant directives.

We should be thankful to the many individuals and organisations that have made this evolution possible. Now it is our duty to ensure safety is properly applied to the design and use of machinery all over the world.

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5 Sep 2017, 8:19