Lunchtime Seminar: Tuesday 14th May 2013

Risk, Responsibility and Robens:
The Regulation of Occupational Health and Safety in Britain, 1961-1974

Chris Sirrs
(London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)

chris sirrs

Tuesday 14th May 2013

1 p.m.

Simon Building 2.57 (CHSTM Seminar Room) 

Despite rejuvenated historical interest in occupational health, the emergence of the current system of health and safety regulation in Britain is still poorly understood. This paper contextualises the appointment and conclusions of the Committee on Safety and Health at Work (1970-72), also known as the Robens Committee. Its report in 1972 signalled a major shift in health and safety policy, informing the landmark Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA) 1974. Analysing the development of health and safety policy over the 1960s, the paper demonstrates how many of its most significant assumptions, such as the inherent limits of legislation, were in currency even a decade previously. Over the 1960s, a highly contingent set of circumstances converged which called into question the continued viability of the existing regulatory system. Productivity concerns, fragile industrial relations, disasters, a deteriorating accident trend, and the changing dimensions of occupational risk, exposed the deficiencies of existing regulation, and conspired to focus regulatory attention onto the management of health and safety by employers and workers themselves. This movement in regulatory attention had lasting consequences for the system outlined in the HSWA 1974, which envisaged a system based on self-regulation by employers and workers in the first instance.

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