Legal frameworks at national and international level set the operational boundaries for business and society as a whole. Initially societal concerns focussed on the basic needs of life but have evolved, with greater prosperity and standards of living, to increased demands for healthier and safer workplaces, cleaner environments, and safety products.

Health and safety regulation in the UK was founded in the industrial revolution of the 19th Century. Then the focus was on issues such as child labour and working hours, with issues relating to specific workplaces following later. Over a period of decades, prescriptive legislation evolved in a piecemeal fashion but some activities continued to be unregulated.

The move to goal-setting regime signaled by the Robens report of 1972 stimulated interest in health and safety management and provided a platform for the development of the health and safety profession and discipline.

Since the introduction of the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act, fatal accident rates have fallen by 83%, and overall there have been significant reductions in injury rates across all the main sectors. Over half of the reduction in accident numbers and rates is attributable to changes in patterns of employment. This period has also witnessed massive changes in the economic, social and technological landscape, and with this have come new demands and challenges for health and safety policy practice.

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