Health and Safety in the British Regulatory State, 1961-2001: the HSC, HSE and the Management of Occupational Risk

Sirrs, C; (2016) Health and Safety in the British Regulatory State, 1961-2001: the HSC, HSE and the Management of Occupational Risk. PhD thesis, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. DOI:

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This thesis engages with recent historical scholarship on occupational health and safety by analysing the conditions that shaped the development of British health and safety regulation between 1961 and 2001. Drawing upon a rich vein of archival material as well as oral history interviews, the thesis focuses on the role played by two regulatory bodies, the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) and Health and Safety Executive (HSE), in generating and enforcing this framework of laws and standards. The thesis illuminates two major historical trends. Firstly, it explores the gradual transformation of the British state in its role as health and safety regulator. Since 1974, the focus of British regulation has been to promote ‘self-regulation’ by employers and employees, and the thesis analyses the ways in which HSC/E has attempted to foster a ‘safety culture’ in British industry, in the context of social, political and economic pressures. Secondly, the thesis analyses the evolution of risk in health and safety regulation, from implicit assumptions and practices in policymaking and enforcement, to the formal demand for all employers to conduct written risk assessments. In so doing, the thesis reconciles various paradoxes. One such paradox is that while the role of the British state in regulating health and safety has ostensibly ‘rolled back’ (e.g. via deregulation), health and safety has in another sense ‘crept forward’, extending beyond the workplace to intervene in public safety and environmental issues. Another paradox is that while British health and safety legislation has been ostensibly ‘successful’ in reducing fatal workplace accidents, it has come under unprecedented public and political scrutiny in recent years. Examining the evolution of health and safety against an extensive theoretical background (e.g. the ‘risk society’), 16 the thesis explains how health and safety has become increasingly central to our work and public lives.

Item Type: Thesis
Thesis Type: Doctoral
Thesis Name: PhD
Faculty and Department: Faculty of Public Health and Policy > Dept of Social and Environmental Health Research
Research Centre: Centre for History in Public Health


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