A Historical Overview of Workplace Health and Safety

Jahida Azreen Jul 21 2023

History of EHS Software

In today's world, workplace safety has become the top priority of all organizations. But, earlier, it wasn't the case. Workplace health and safety was entirely a new concept.

Preceding 1970, workplace safety was under the Department of Labour and had no central focus. Because of it, workers were the ones to suffer the consequences. It had taken more than 200 years to evolve into the law we follow today. Due to the increasing number of fatalities and injuries, health and safety continue to evolve daily. 

Over the ages, workplace health and safety have advanced significantly, moving from a time of dangerous working conditions to the current emphasis on employee well-being and accident prevention. In this article, we'll learn about the major turning points that have helped make the workplace safer and healthier for workers, from the Industrial Revolution to modern procedures.

The Early Days: Pre-Industrial Revolution Era

Earlier, limited technological development created some inherent risks in the workplace. However, companies might frequently control possible hazards more efficiently with smaller labour sizes and better oversight. While most safety precautions were informal in ancient Mesopotamia other early communities already had the idea of protecting employees' welfare.

The Industrial Revolution

In the late 18th century, there was a revolution in industries. As industries boomed, factories emerged, introducing mass production and a higher demand for labour. Unfortunately, this time was marked by terrible conditions at work, lengthy hours, child labour, and minimal consideration for employee safety. Accidents and fatal injuries became too regular. During this period, the organizations did not focus on improving workplace safety. 

The Emergence of Labor Movements

Labour movements started to take off in the late 19th and early 20th centuries due to the harsh realities of the Industrial Revolution. Workers began requesting more pay, lenient working hours, and safer working environments. These joint efforts resulted in the creation of labour laws that intended to safeguard workers' rights and welfare, such as the Factory Act of 1833 in the United Kingdom and the Fair Labor Standards Act in the United States.

Early Safety Regulations and Standards

Governments and businesses realized the necessity for explicit safety rules as industries became more complicated and mechanized. The first safety committees and departments were established to address workplace dangers methodically in response. Organizations like the National Safety Council (NSC) in the United States and the British Safety Council, formed in the 20th century, were crucial in raising public awareness of safety issues and establishing safety standards.

Governments worldwide took worker and workplace health and safety far more seriously in the 1970s. The Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act was passed in the US in 1970, establishing the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) to establish, enforce, and maintain health and safety standards and laws.

The main objective of this act was to advance safety and guarantee a safer work culture for all employees across the globe. The law addressed risks to people's health and safety, such as toxic environments, uncomfortable working conditions, and cold and heat stress.

The Ongoing Evolution

Research and technological developments in the second half of the 20th century further altered occupational health and safety procedures. Organizations prioritized risk analyses, safety training, and accident investigations in adopting comprehensive safety management systems. National authorities implemented stricter rules, while international organizations like the International Labour Organization (ILO) attempted to establish worldwide safety standards.

In recent decades, the focus has shifted beyond mere safety compliance to encompass employee well-being and overall health. The ergonomics concept gained prominence, aiming to design work environments that prevent physical strain and promote productivity. Technology and the Future of Workplace Health and Safety.

Technology has become increasingly important in developing workplace health and safety practices since the dawn of the digital age. Innovative solutions have improved risk assessment, incident prevention, and employee engagement. Predictive analytics may further revolutionize workplace safety.

Final Thoughts

From the challenges of the Industrial Revolution to the current emphasis on employee well-being, every era has influenced today's workplace safety landscape. The road to a safer workplace has advanced significantly, but more work still needs to be done. Technology and our combined efforts are moving us toward a safer and healthier future.