Fi Lunch Atop A Skyscraper

The Evolution of Health and Safety at Work – What’s Next?

Published by
29th April 2024

Many of us are likely familiar with the famous collection of photographs, Lunch atop a Skyscraper, which depict a group of workers in very precarious – and notably unsafe – positions during the construction of the Empire State Building in 1932.

Charles Clyde Ebbets


Whilst the images are visually stunning, they also highlight a key fact about the state of health and safety regulations almost 100 years ago – they were nearly non-existent!

But over the years, the importance of health and safety in the workplace has increased exponentially all across the world.

In the US, occupational health and safety truly began in 1970, with the passing of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act, and was further improved in 1971 with the establishment of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which helped to transform the health and safety landscape into what we now see today.

Similarly, in the UK, the first notion of health and safety becoming a legal issue was in 1833 with the introduction of the Factories Act. However, health and safety was only truly brought to the forefront and addressed on a mass scale with the passing of the Health and Safety at Work Act in 1974.

A common thread throughout the history of health and safety at work is that it has always been focused on the physical safety of workers. Today, with new laws in place and with the help of HR, physical risks at work have been significantly mitigated.

This begs the question – what is the next step in the evolution of health and safety?

And the answer that’s emerging is psychological health and safety.

A hundred years ago, the idea of considering one’s mental health a matter of safety at work may have seemed strange – especially to those high-altitude workers accustomed to leaping between girders! – but in the modern world, mental health is a growing area of focus.

One study found that 89% of employees now believe that psychological safety in the workplace is essential. The concern for mental health has been catapulted to the forefront for many due to the pandemic, which brought into perspective the importance of feeling content and supported at work, as it made many realize that life is short and they want the best out of it (we subsequently dubbed this the ‘carpe diem’ mindset).

With psychological safety now lining up alongside wider health and safety concerns for employers, the role of HR in managing this expanding wellbeing portfolio is paramount to ensure that employees are getting the support they need.

If you would like to discuss how we can guide you in this process to ensure that the health and safety needs of your workplace – whether physical or psychological – are being met, please get in touch with us.

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