Can you imagine being part of a society fuelled by mass production and the factory system, and what the working conditions were during the Industrial Revolution? Imagine children from as young as four working up to twelve hours a day. Imagine Industrial revolution workers climbing under machinery, often resulting in loss of limbs, crushed, or decapitated. Imagine girls working at match factories developing phossy jaw from phosphorus fumes and children employed at glassworks being burnt and blinded. Imagine those working at potteries being vulnerable to poisonous clay dust. Imagine many children developing occupational diseases such as lung cancer and dying before the age of 25.
As difficult as it may be to imagine, the reality is, the health and safety of workers were not always taken seriously. The Health and Morals of Apprentices Act 1802 was introduced by factory owner Sir Robert Peel because of an outcry over child labour conditions and became an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It applied to factory conditions, especially regarding child workers in cotton and woollen mills. Commonly known as the Factory Act, it required factory owners to: (i) Have ventilated factory rooms which should be lime-washed twice a year. (ii) Supply children with two complete outfits of clothing. (iii) Children between ages 9 and 13 can work maximum 8 hours. (iv) Adolescents between 14 and 18 years can work maximum 12 hours (v) Male and female children must be housed in separate sleeping quarters and not more than two per bed (vi) Instruct apprentices in reading, writing, arithmetic, and the principles of the Christian religion.
The concept of health and safety originated with the introduction of The Factory Act 1802 and the health and safety legislation we see today in many cases was shaped by incidents that happened in the past. For example, “in the UK, 28 fatalities at the Flixborough chemical plant in June 1974 was a catalyst for the formation of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.”
“In the US, one of the most notorious incidents was The Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire in 1911, which killed 146 employees when they could not escape through locked doors. In the 1960s, 14,000 US workers were dying each year. In addition, 2.2 million were out of work due to injuries and illnesses. To tackle this crisis, in December 1970, President Nixon signed the OSH Act, which became law on April 28, 1971.”
“In Canada, the Hogg’s Hollow disaster of March 1960, where five workers were killed by a fire and explosion whilst installing a water main, sparked a public outcry. This prompted the Ontario government to modernize safety regulations, leading to the enactment of the Industrial Safety Act in 1964.”
Over 200 years after The Factory Act of 1802 many businesses and legislators are still struggling to give health and safety in the workplace the attention and priority it deserves. In September, Jaric St. Vincent Limited started an Occupational Safety and Health Six-part Workplace Conversation Series aimed at awakening a consciousness in business owners of the inevitable, i.e., the operationalized of the SVG OSH Act 2017.
The conversation takes place in the form of a monthly two-day workshop. Last week the conversation continued at the Sunset Shores Hotel where the focus was on Establishing and Managing Safety Committees.
“The primary purpose of a safety committee is to bring workers and management together in a non-adversarial, cooperative effort to assist the employer in making improvements to safety management.”
Participants were given the required training to set up and execute the legal and operational duties of the safety committee. The workshop provided a comprehensive understanding of effective safety committee operations through presentations, tabletop exercises and case studies.
The Conservation Series continues on November 23 and 24 where the critical issue of Conducting and Documenting Risk Assessments will be discussed – safety and health is every body’s business.
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