University of Portsmouth's History Blog

‘Do it the safety way!’ 100 years of accident prevention.

In this blog Dr Mike Esbester, senior lecturer in history, discusses how he has been working with the British Safety Council in order to create an online archive of their material. Mike draws upon his research interests in his 3rd year Special Subject strand. Mike’s wide-ranging take on the history of accident prevention touches upon accidents at work, in the streets and at home, and examines how the state has interacted with its citizens – and how the messages found in safety education were not neutral, but contained some very distinct ideas about who could prevent accidents. This is just one aspect of Mike’s research, which has been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and supported by the University of Portsmouth.

Get it dressed, beat the germs

Earlier this year, the British Safety Council (BSC) put their archive online, covering 60 years of accident prevention activity. The BSC is a charity, now focusing mainly on workplace safety but over the years it has been involved in pretty much every aspect of accident prevention imaginable – including things like consumer safety, healthy beaches, DIY, women’s safety, AIDS, fireworks, children’s playgrounds and more. All of these issues reflect the changing concerns of British society since 1957 – and it’s now possible to access virtually all of the existing material online.

Lashed ladders

The BSC’s digital archive was brought about in part by Mike Esbester, one of the History team here at Portsmouth. Mike’s long-standing research on the history of accidents, safety and risk in modern Britain led him to make contact with the BSC several years ago. Initially things didn’t look promising: he was told they didn’t have any archival material. However, in a stroke of good luck, Mike ended up speaking with one of the senior management whose interest was spurred. He went away and made some more enquiries, and eventually discovered that there was some material from the past stored at a warehouse in Derbyshire. Cue a trip there, to find (in amongst the leaking roof, pigeons, fork lift trucks and day-to-day business of the warehouse) around 20 pallets of material.

Derbyshire warehouse conditions

In the years that followed, Mike headed back to the warehouse with BSC colleagues, helping to work out what they had on the pallets and to advise on plans for long-term solutions. As a result, the BSC has improved the storage of its archive and has had everything digitised – now made publicly available. The archive contains a good run of the BSC’s posters from the 1970s to the present, a complete run of the BSC’s newspaper and magazine publications, from 1957, minutes of the BSC’s meetings, reports produced by the BSC and press coverage. It’s a fantastic resource for historians, for health and safety practitioners and indeed for anyone interested in Britain’s social and cultural history.

Mike’s been helping the BSC to prepare for its 60th anniversary, including writing articles for its monthly magazine, advising on activities and writing a book drawing on the archive – the feature of a post here in the coming months.

If you want to have a look, you can access the archive at: https://services.storetec.net/?u=public@bsc.org&p=FreelyDeal42


Expect the unexpected

(Images courtesy of British Safety Council)

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  1. If you go down to the Archives today … | - November 21, 2017

    […] the UK and beyond. Fortunately the BSC is an organisation attuned to the value of the past, and – as discussed in an earlier post  – has been prepared to put its money where its mouth is, including creating an excellent digital […]

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