The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives

On Tuesday, 8th July 2014 to mark the 40th anniversary of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, the Centre hosted an afternoon workshop to discuss the historical development of health and safety in Britain over the last few decades. Bringing together a range of professions, including historians, epidemiologists and civil servants, the workshop illuminated the increasingly important yet controversial role health and safety has come to play in our public and work lives. The workshop encompassed themes such as the changing public legitimacy of health and safety regulation, the continued mortality from asbestos exposure, issues of politics and identity in the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), and the impact of the 1972 Robens Report. Speakers included the Acting Chief Executive of HSE, Kevin Myers; the former Director-General, John Rimington; Dr Mike Esbester (U. Portsmouth); and Professor Julian Peto (LSHTM). The workshop highlighted the unique role history can play in demystifying and contextualising the evolution of health and safety, a subject which remains under-explored despite growing interest from historians in recent years.

Audio files are available for the following presentations:

John Rimington, former Director-General, Health and Safety Executive. HSE: Finance, Politics and Identity

Professor Julian Peto, Cancer Research UK Chair of Epidemiology, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. The Failure of UK Asbestos Regulation in the 1970s.  

Dr Tim Carter, Former Director of Health Policy, HSE. Occupational Health from EMAS to COSHH.

Dr Mike Esbester, Lecturer in History, University of Portsmouth. Buying in to Health and Safety? Perceptions of Legitimacy of Occupational Health and Safety & The 1974 Act.


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