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The Evolution of HSE

Updated: Dec 16, 2023


The health and safety profession's origins can be traced back to the early 19th century during the Industrial Revolution. This era saw a massive influx of workers, including children, into factories and mines, leading to severe health and safety issues. The rapid industrialization demanded governmental and societal intervention to establish minimum welfare standards for workers.


UK's Pioneering Factory Act

The UK's Factory Act of 1833 marked a significant step, focusing on child labor prevention and setting basic welfare standards. Although limited, it set a global precedent for worker protection. This period saw a reduction in child labor and the introduction of basic employment standards, though a formal health and safety profession was still nascent.


The Emergence of Safety Professionals

By the early 20th century, more countries adopted worker protection laws. The real transformation in health and safety, however, began with Herbert Heinrich's research in the 1930s. Heinrich introduced the concept that reducing minor incidents could consequently reduce major accidents. However, his assertion that 95% of accidents were due to 'unsafe acts' unfortunately reinforced a worker-blaming attitude.


In the UK, the 1937 'Wilson's and Clyde Coal Ltd v English' case emphasized the employer's duty to create a safe work environment, shifting some focus from worker blame to systemic issues. Employers started integrating hazard controls and safety training, giving rise to the role of 'risk custodians.'


Frank E. Bird's Contribution and Modern Safety Practices

Frank E. Bird's work in the 1950s and 60s, particularly his 1969 book on 'Total Loss Control', resonated with business leaders by framing safety in terms of financial losses and gains. This approach helped integrate health and safety into business imperatives, paving the way for today's health and safety professionals.


The Modern Health & Safety Professional: A Diverse Role

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 in the UK introduced responsibilities for both employers and employees, further developing the role of health and safety professionals. These professionals began as 'generalists' driven by a strong belief in protecting workers from profit-driven exploitation. Over time, they evolved into strategic consultants and integral parts of business operations.


Technology and Future Trends

Today, technological advancements like wearables, AI, drone technology, and IoT are reshaping the health and safety landscape. The modern health and safety professional must stay abreast of these trends and continuously adapt to ensure worker safety and compliance with evolving standards.


The Adaptive Health & Safety Leader

As we progress, health and safety professionals in the oil and gas industry must remain flexible, educated, and technologically savvy. The role will demand a deeper understanding of global trends, an ability to integrate new technologies effectively, and continuous professional development. Most importantly, the focus should always remain on ensuring positive outcomes for workers and being trusted advisors to organizational leadership.


From the Archives

An early industrial induction

Early Health and Safety in the US (From the film 'Can't Take No More' - OSHA)


From the 1930's to WWII (From the film 'Can't Take No More' - OSHA)


OSHA in the 1970's


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