The changing legitimacy of health and safety at work, 1960–2015

This project analysed the development of social dialogues about occupational health and safety (OHS) between 1960 and 2015. Historical and contemporary sources (documentary, testimonial, and empirical) were used to explain changes and to understand how far different social, political, and legal factors have influenced changes in public perceptions of OHS.

The project, undertaken by the University of Reading and the University of Portsmouth, had the following research objectives:

  • to develop new empirical data sets relating to the attitudes towards OHS held by key actors in the regulatory process.
  • to develop an account of historical and contemporary trends relating to the public and political profile of OHS from 1960 to 2015, to answer the following research questions:
    • - How and why did perceptions of OHS change in Britain? Which historical, economic, legal and sociological factors influenced perceptions of the legitimacy of OHS and prompted any shift towards a more hostile climate?
    • - How far do changes in policy and perception reflect historical continuities and notions of the ‘risk society’, particularly in relation to changing ideas of voluntarism, individual agency and the role of the state?
    • - How have public attitudes towards OHS changed? How does the public regard OHS now, and what key factors underpin these views? Was there ever a social consensus for OHS regulation, and is the public really more critical now than before?
  • What are the key factors, events, and trends that define and influence over the social status and profile of OHS practices? What does this mean for those who want to shape policy and practitioner approaches to OHS in the next five to ten years?
  • to make observations on current and future trends in the public profile of OHS, and recommendations for key policy audiences.

Read the full report here

The study produced an additional report, Occupational health and safety legitimacy in the UK: A review of quantitative data; click here to access.