It’s safe to say “health and safety” doesn’t always get a good press.
Blamed for everything from stopping fun events to banning conkers, health and safety legislation is more often portrayed as a grumpy killjoy than the reason the United Kingdom has one of the lowest workplace mortality rates in Europe.
To even the score, we’ve gathered some of the reasons we should all be on Team Health and Safety:
Work is an Adult-Only Environment
Some people had a good time in school; some people didn’t. But we can all agree our time there was infinitely preferable to being forced to go up a chimney or down a mine to feed our families – something that was a reality a few generations ago.
Health and safety reform has marched hand in hand with other kinds of workers’ rights, and with good reason.
Children were often exploited in early industrial workplaces. In factories, their smaller stature meant they were used to climb into hard-to-reach parts of the machinery to repair it – meaning they bore the brunt of the injuries. Likewise, their size made them suited for chimney sweep work, exposing them to dangerous fumes and causing disastrous health problems.
If this nightmarish scenario sounds alien to the life we live today, it’s advances in health and safety policy we have to thank.
Our Streets Don’t Stink (Usually)
Work-related health and safety isn’t just for the good of employees. Every year, even now, thousands of members of the public are injured due to work-related activities. The toll that pollution is having on our health and environment is well-publicised.
Regulations controlling hygiene, waste disposal and air pollution have a long history in the UK. Many 19th century Public Health Acts displayed a growing recognition of the idea of sanitation. The links between filthy living conditions and the health of the populace were clearer than they had been. These reforms paved the way for things like modern plumbing and waste practices – something we’re all thankful for every time we walk down a city street!
We’re Less Likely to Die of Infection
Florence Nightingale was an instrumental figure in improving hospital hygiene. During her work as a nurse, she noticed most deaths weren’t down to the illnesses or wounds patients arrived with, but due to the infections they later developed. She pushed for reform of hygiene standards and saw related deaths lower significantly.
Nowadays, anything related to healthcare, food preparation or waste disposal is governed by strong health and safety legislation. Some might call this red tape, but if it stops us getting ill from preventable diseases, we’re all for it.
Canaries Will Thank Us
It’s not just humans who have benefited from health and safety policy! Canaries were famously taken down mines to warn of carbon monoxide or other poisonous gases. As a sentinel species, canaries are particularly sensitive to such atmospheric problems. Their reactions – or sometimes deaths – would allow the miners to evacuate before feeling the effects themselves. Surprisingly, this practice didn’t die out in the UK until 1986, when the introduction of higher tech, automatic devices for detecting carbon monoxide replaced the canaries. Presumably, the canaries were chirping with glee about not being used in this way anymore.
So next time you hear the phrase “health and safety gone mad”, remember all the great things this legislation has brought us – humans and canaries alike.