Updated: Nov 15, 2020
A brief history of the origins, development and implementation of health and safety law in the United Kingdom, 1802–2014 by David Eves
Chapter 1: The Dawn of Factory Law
Health and safety law in the United Kingdom has been over 200 years in the making. Its origins lie in political responses to social problems arising from the upheaval of the Industrial Revolution and the inadequacies of earlier Elizabethan Poor Laws.
The first Factory Inspectors were appointed by King William IV in 1833. Inspectors’ reports in the long Victorian era that followed are a rich archive of contemporaneous commentaries on industrial working life. They contain many insights into the politics surrounding the changes in society, at the same time chronicling in detail the legal and technical developments needed to improve protection of workers’ safety, health and welfare. The story of the United Kingdom’s industrial development is closely entwined with the story of HM Factory Inspectorate and the development of Factory Law. Often it seems to have been a tale of ‘two steps forward, one step back’.
The narrative that follows has been based largely on Inspectors’ reports, in particular the Annual Report of HM Chief Inspector of Factories for the year 1932 which commemorated the first 100 years of the work of HM Inspectors, and information available on the web site of the Health and Safety Executive and other sources (listed), including the author’s and colleagues’ memories of their years in the Inspectorate.