The changing face of health and safety in the workplace

Mark Appleton has been in the engineering industry for just under 50 years and has seen first-hand the evolution of health and safety in the workplace.

Share this page

In 1979, Mark began his career as a 16-year-old engineering apprentice and remembers the developing approach to health and safety in the workshop. He said: “When I started my career, the machinery was very different to today. It was all analogue with manual controls, limited guarding, some machines driven by overhead powered shafts with belt drives still in use. Heavy and large materials along with products moved through the workshop by manually operated ‘block and tackle’ lifting units and non-powered cranes.

“The working environment was cluttered with drab military colour schemes of grey, light green or brown lit by a mix of natural daylight and fluorescent tubes and heated via noisy fume generating gas burner units. The floors were largely concrete, layered with decades of soaked oil and grease and there were wooden duckboards for standing on whilst operating the machines or benches.

“Many of the mature experienced engineers in the workplace were WW2 veterans who had an influence on the culture of the workplace with the ‘mend & make-do’ attitude to equipment and processes which sometimes worked safely and sometimes not."

“Smoking was widespread in the workplace and considered socially acceptable. It was also a common practice to visit the pub on a Friday lunchtime, then return to work and be allowed operate machinery.”

As Mark progressed in his engineering career, he saw working practices change to help protect UK employees from the risk of health and safety related incidents and working experiences in the US and Europe provided valuable insights and learnings on how these could be improved further. Simultaneously, between the ‘90s and ‘00s, the emergence, growth and influence of external accreditations drove higher compliance standards in quality, environmental and health and safety.

“By this time, I saw housekeeping standards had been improved with ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’ approach,” Mark said.

“The Computer Numerical Control (CNC) of cutting tools was becoming widespread, limiting the need for manual interventions, and the layout of the workshop accommodated for this by allocating more space for machinery and equipment.

“Coloured floor surfaces were introduced to clearly show work and traffic areas which provided better access and egress. Enhanced safety systems were also implemented to protect employees, such as light-guards and fuller enclosures linked to emergency stop functions.”

More recently, Mark has been working as Water Services QUENSH Manager for Hydrosave, providing leadership and compliance expertise to the company’s leakage contracts and specialist inspection and testing divisions. In this role, he has continued to see developments in workplace health and safety culture, attitudes and standards.

He said: “There is a better understanding of the harmful effects of hazardous solvents and chemicals on people and the environment through COSHH regulations supported by safer disposal methods and arrangements controlled through Waste Regulations.

“The workplace is cleaner, tidier and with lower inventory levels and removal of unnecessary clutter. Environments are now improved with buildings that are brighter, better insulated and often air conditioned."

“Workforce engagement is acknowledged through various structured H&S forums and leadership presence at working sites and locations where colleagues are encouraged to voice their concerns. Whilst smoking was once a widely accepted behaviour in the workplace, it is now seen as anti-social and smoke-free workplaces have become a legal requirement to protect others from its harmful effects.”