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Have you ever wonder about some of your Occupational Health and Safety Laws and stated it was either about time or who is the moron that thought this one up, well our OHS rules and standards have been growing and hopefully preventing worker incidents, but since when and by whom?

Although Health and Safety was noted in history four hundred years before Christ, most of our current laws and standards really didn’t get a punch in the arm since Rome until;

In the USA, The Occupational Safety and Health Act is the primary federal law which governs occupational health and safety in the private sector and federal government in the United States. It was enacted by Congress in 1970 and was signed by President Richard Nixon on December 29, 1970. Its main goal is to ensure that employers provide employees with an environment free from recognized hazards, such as exposure to toxic chemicals, excessive noise levels, mechanical dangers, heat or cold stress, or unsanitary conditions. The first federal safety legislation was enacted in the Progressive period. In 1893, Congress passed the Safety Appliance Act, the first federal statute to require safety equipment in the workplace (the law applied only to railroad equipment, however)

On the British and Canadian Side of the courts we a little over 200 years of written laws governing our current standards. From the first legislation in 1802, it has been a rocky road to get to where we are today.


Factory Act 1802
The UK’s first law to protect the welfare of people at work. Pauper apprentices were prohibited from night work and their labor limited to 12 hours a day.


Factories Act 1831

Limited working day to 12 hours for those under 18.


Factories Act 1833

Made provisions for the enforcement of the law by government-appointed inspectors, known as the HM Factory Inspectorate, whose main duty was protecting children from injury and overwork. Four inspectors were appointed. It also extended a young person’s maximum 12-hour working day to woolen and linen mills.

All of our safety laws and standards came into play via these practices, Health and safety law is a body of law that protects the health, safety and welfare of the general public and certain defined sectors of the population such as employees. Most jurisdictions have a framework of health and safety law which will usually be enforced by the state using an inspectorate, regulatory control and the criminal law:

Common Law began as an unofficial practice among judges and other experts, where the transcripts of disputes in Courts were circulated –  eventually, this developed into a formally approved system of precedent, where cases considered to be significant, were documented and later used as authority for specific rules of law.

Precedent is still only set by the superior courts AND yes 90% of our laws did start in Britian (House of Lords, Court of Appeal, High Court) and is binding on courts of equal and lower rank (Crown Court, County Court, Magistrate’s Court etc.).

Judicial Precedent

Decisions made by judges have authority within the system of law. Many precedents are binding – this means that the principle of law set down by a previous judgement will be binding, in courts of equal or lower rank, in subsequent cases found on similar facts. Precedent can be either authoritative or persuasive:

Authoritative precedent refers to judgments made by higher courts that bind the lower courts.

Persuasive precedent refers to judgments which are not binding upon a court, however, a judge may choose to take them into consideration (for example cases in the USA or Commonwealth).

Terry Penney

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