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There’s no denying that health and safety is a hot topic.


Evolution of safety standards in the industrial sector, from the industrial revolution to the uncertain future of post-coronavirus health and safety.


While some bemoan the excessive ‘red tape’ that modern employers face, many of these measures are designed to keep employees safe from harm and to ensure business owners take responsibility for the health and safety of their staff. Whether or not you think that health and safety truly has ‘gone mad’, we can all agree that employee safety in the workplace has never been more important. COVID-19 is a killer and if Britain is going to get back to work while the virus is still out there, employers need to ensure that their employees are as protected as possible.

Indeed, there was a time when employers had little to no responsibility for health and safety in their workplace, leading to dangerous working conditions and a terrible standard of living for those working and living in industrial cities. So where did health and safety regulations come from? To answer this and more, we decided to explore the evolution of safety standards in the industrial sector, from the industrial revolution to the uncertain future of post-coronavirus health and safety.


Industrial Revolution: Terrible Conditions in Factories

The industrial revolution was a period of rapid industrialisation that occurred in the latter half of the 18th century, first in Britain, then quickly spreading to the USA and the rest of the world. Powered by steam, this period saw an unprecedented boom in manufacturing in Britain and permanent societal transformation in the form of urbanisation. Items once handcrafted by skilled craftsmen were now mass produced in factories and workshops, creating an increased demand for resources. Employees were perhaps the biggest resource needed to power these elevated levels of production, as manpower was needed to operate machinery, produce goods and transport materials.  As employment opportunities increased in the industrial sector, more people abandoned rural life and migrated to cities and towns to fill the demand.

What awaited them, however, were terrible working conditions, low wages and long working hours. Often working 16 hours a day with no break, the men, women and children who powered these factories barely earned enough to live off. Men were typically paid 10 shillings per week, women earned 5 shillings for the same work, and children were paid just 1 shilling- to put this in perspective, many employees were paying 5 shillings a week in rent. With the cost of employing children so low, factory owners were particularly keen to hire them, and families were often so desperate for extra income that they had to send their children to work.

With the political landscape at the time firmly in favour of laissez-faire capitalism, factory owners could run their business as they saw fit, with little regard for the conditions or rights of their workers. As a result, factories, especially textile mills, were extremely dangerous places to work. The heavy, moving machinery was left unprotected and horrific injuries were commonplace on the factory floor. The lack of workers’ rights meant that those injured at work were often completely abandoned; their wages instantly stopped and no medical attention was provided on-site. In short, there was nothing to protect the workers from injury and no assistance, financial or otherwise, should an accident happen.



19th Century: Factory Acts

In the 19th century, a series of factory acts were introduced in an attempt to protect workers from long hours and dangerous working conditions. This Government interference marked the beginning of the end to Britain’s laissez-faire attitude and sparked increasing demand for better conditions and improved worker’s rights. There were many notable acts introduced over the course of the 19th century, here’s a snippet of some:


The Cotton Mills and Factories Act 1819 

Prohibited the employment of children under 9 in the cotton industry and reduced the working day for children aged 9–16 years from 16 to 12 hours.

Althorp’s Act (1833)

Introduced the role of factory inspectorate to ensure new regulations were enforced and better regulated the working hours of children.

  • Children between the ages 9–12 could not work more than 48 hours a week.
  • Children aged 9–13 were prohibited from working more than 8 hours a day and had to spend at least two hours per day in education.
  • Children between 14–18 were no longer permitted to work more than 12 hours a day.

Graham’s Factory Act 1847

Building on previous acts, Graham’s Factory Act provisioned the following:

  • The working day for women was capped at 12 hours per day.
  • Some machinery had to be fenced off to protect employees.
  • A readable version of the act was to be displayed in factories, detailing the name and address of the factory inspector, working hours and mealtimes.

Factory and Workshop Act 1895

Unlike previous acts, this one covered all types of factories and workshops, and was designed to regulate factory conditions, health and safety of workers, wages, working hours and even holidays.

Sanitation and ventilation standards were brought in to ensure all factories and workshops were cool and well-ventilated. Every fourteen months, these premises also needed to be cleaned with hot water and soap.  Machinery was to be securely fenced off to protect employees from getting too close to moving parts and the law required all machinery to be still during cleaning. Fire escapes were a legal requirement for the first time and fines were introduced when injury or death was caused by negligence on the part of the factory owner.



20th Century: Health and Safety in the workplace

The 20th century saw the rise in the power and influence of the trade unions, who campaigned for reduced working hours and increased leisure time. This culminated in the 1937 Factories Act, which reduced the working hours of women and under 18s from 12 hours to 9, with a limit of 48 hours a week.

Working hours for men at this point were still unregulated by law and would remain so until the Working Time Regulations of 1998, when a 48-hour work week was introduced for both men and women. This also entitled employees to statutory rest days and paid holidays.  As the century progressed, more acts were passed to protect the rights of workers, including the Contracts of Employment Act 1963, Redundancy Payments Act 1965, Equal Pay Act 1970 and Employment Protection Act 1975.

Health and safety laws were also tightened, and factories and workshops became safer places to work. The 1961 Factory act saw the greater regulation of factory conditions, with enforceable legislation passed to guarantee proper ventilation, cleanliness, temperature controls, lighting, and sanitary conveniences. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 superseded this previous legislation, and remains the primary law governing workplace health and safety today, holding employers in every industry responsible for the safeguarding and protection of their employees.


21st Century: Tackling COVID-19 in the workplace

When COVID-19 lockdown hit us on March 23rd, many non-essential manufacturers, construction sites and factories down tools and closed their doors to help in the fight against COVID-19. With the manufacturing sector employing over 2.7 million people and making up 17% of the UK’s GDP, it was vital that the industrial sector got back up and running again as soon as possible.

COVID-19 presents new and unprecedented challenges for the health and safety of the industrial and manufacturing sector and employers must now consider how to safeguard their employees against an invisible threat. As per the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act, the employer has a duty to ensure that their employers are working in a safe environment and that they have the right equipment to protect themselves. This regulation extends to protecting workers against coronavirus and preventing the spread of the virus amongst their employees.

The Government states that employers must carry out a risk assessment for coronavirus, just as they would for any other health and safety hazard, managing the risk and implementing the appropriate policies to ensure staff are as protected as possible.  This includes;

  •  Ensuring those displaying symptoms stay home and self-isolate
  • Taking reasonable measures to ensure that social distancing is adhered to (2 metre distance or 1 metre with risk mitigation)
  • Risk mitigation could include increased hand washing, scaled-up cleaning, using screens and barriers, avoiding face-to-face contact and implementing social bubbles.
  • Considering special measures for those at high risk
  •  Increasing ventilation to reduce droplet spread
  • Staggering the working day and breaks to avoid crowding
  • Sign posting new policies for existing employees and visitors
  • Providing adequate PPE when necessary
  • Pre-screening employees for symptoms by taking temperature

For more advice, guidance and regulation on keeping your employees safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, please read the Government’s COVID-19 secure guidance for employers, employees and the self-employed.


The Future: Technology helping us get back to work

To help in the fight against COVID-19, many businesses are investing in technology to help implement effective employee pre-screening and automated crowd control in limited capacity areas. We can only predict that technology like this will become instrumental in getting Britain back to work safely.


People Flow Control System

A People flow control system is designed to provide automated access control for areas with a limited capacity. This technology can monitor how many people are entering and leaving a specific area, which can help businesses and employees adhere to social distancing without needing extra manpower to monitor spaces. Using the latest AI technology to track and monitor the continuous flow of people, people flow software can be programmed to restrict the number of workers entering a limited capacity space, automatically tracking the flow of the people entering and exiting to ensure the set limit is never exceeded. These systems are easy to setup and operate, providing industrial settings with an effective, unmanned solution to keep employees safe as they head back to work.


Thermal Imaging

Thermal imaging technology can be used to take temperature readings of multiple individuals in a crowd. Using advanced facial recognition software, the technology scans a crowd and detects elevated body temperatures. Elevated body temperatures are a common early symptom of illness and a potential indication of health problems.

As Factories and workshops are areas of high foot traffic, where it’s not always possible to social distance, it is vital that workers with COVID-19 symptoms are detected and isolated as soon as possible to prevent the spread of infection within the workforce. Thermal imaging could help to detect potential COVID-19 carriers and highlight the need for further assessment and screening to reduce contamination and spread.


Are you looking for industrial security, people flow technology or thermal cameras? Churchill Security can supply all this and more.

Churchill Security is a leading cross-industry security company supplying professional and comprehensive security solutions to organisations seeking expert Security Guards, CCTV & Event Security, Key Holding & Alarm Response, Mobile Patrols and Thermal Imaging & People Flow.


To find out more about how Churchill Security can protect your industrial business, contact us today.


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John Melling is a Director for Churchill Security Ltd. John is a highly motivated, determined and decisive security industry professional. Drawing on his extensive experience gained within the security industry whilst working on the coalface John has operated at all levels within the industry. He has a proven track record for motivating and leading high performance teams and has helped mentor and develop many people at Churchill who now hold key or senior positions within the business. John is committed to delivering only the finest services, exercising compelling leadership, maintaining good internal morale and striving to resolve any challenges efficiently and effectively.