Just as today’s workplace is undergoing a revolution, great changes were taking place in the post-war austerity Britain of 60 years ago.
At the start of the Queen’s reign, only 1 in 5 households had a washing machine, 1 in 10 a telephone, 1 in 20 a fridge. Almost nobody had central heating. Fewer than half of all households had a television with many people crowding around a shared set to watch the coronation.
In the 1950’s there were 6 million fewer people in employment than there are today, and the number of women at work was 20% less.
Although Great Britain has a tradition of health and safety regulation going back over 150 years (HM Factory Inspectorate was formed in 1833), as far as health and safety is concerned, the landmark event of the last 60 years is surely the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act. Even so, when Elizabeth II became Queen 60 years ago, it would be a further 22 years before the Act came into force.
According to HSE statistics, fatal injuries to employees have fallen by 82% since 1974 with reported non-fatal injuries dropping by 76%.
These figures are balanced with the fact that deaths from asbestos-related diseases continue to increase to this day, with today’s cases arising mainly from exposure to asbestos 30-40 years ago.
Today, rapid technological advances have increased the scope to do more work from home, but this has had the effect of blurring the boundaries between work and non-work, and enabled more sophisticated monitoring and surveillance of employees. Although working conditions have generally improved in 60 years, the rates of work-related stress (and stress awareness) have increased in the latter decades of the Queen’s reign.
This has led Dr John Philpott, Chief Economic Adviser at the Charted Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), to comment:
“Whatever the future of work, the lesson of the past six decades is that increased productivity and prosperity isn’t enough to enhance the common good in the workplace or society in general.
“With the threat of unemployment an underlying concern even during good times, people do not seem much happier about their working lives and many exhibit the symptoms of work-related stress.”
Although general working conditions may have improved, do changes to personal and employer expectations (and an altered workload) mean that we are any better off overall? Let us know your thoughts.
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