The British Safety Council has launched its 60th anniversary celebrations using the medium of film to reflect on the organisation’s past, present and future.

The British Safety Council held a gala film night, hosted by film critic Mark Kermode, to demonstrate the contribution it has made to improving health and safety over the last 60 years. In the Regent Street cinema, the organisation showcased its 60 years history, recent achievements and plans for the future.

The past

The film British Safety Council at 60 launched the evening of celebrations. It tells the story of the creation of the British Safety Council in 1957 and its growth as a significant campaigning organisation that transformed health and safety.  

Using long lost archival footage, the film focuses on the life and work of James Tye, the organisation’s charismatic, and sometimes controversial, founder as he tried to improve health and safety at a time when hundreds of people were being killed at work each year and when laws to protect workers were inadequate and piecemeal.

Guests at the event were also presented with a book, Beware! Watchdog with fearsome bark, which features historic posters and other documents commissioned by the British Safety Council in all their colourful and vibrant glory. The tile of the book refers to an article written for The Financial Times by James Tye in 1978. Authored by Mike Esbester, senior lecturer in History at the University of Portsmouth, the book shows how this material both reflected the values of British society and tried to change them.

The present

Since 1957, the British Safety Council has been advising on risk, helping both employers and the general public to understand and manage its consequences in pursuit of the charity’s vision that no-one should be injured or made ill at work. To mark its 60th anniversary, the British Safety Council launched a competition challenging young filmmakers to share their understanding of risk in a short film format.

The competition attracted nearly 50 entries from young people in Britain and around the world. The films were judged by a panel of filmmakers and critics, including Richard Bracewell, a film director best known for the feature film Bill, and the deputy editor of Sight & Sound, Kieron Corless. The winning film Me, Miphone & I, by Juan Cruz-Hernández, a student and camera operator from London, is a powerful warning against a very modern phenomenon – the alienating effects of mobile technology.

The future

Reflecting a wide-ranging debate between thought leaders and academics, including Professor Cary Cooper, PwC’s Michael Rendell and the International Labour Organisation’s Deputy Director General, Deborah Greenfield, the film explores the impact of automation, the rise of the gig economy and an ageing workforce. It concludes with the ultimate question: does work itself have a future? 

The 60th anniversary celebration night was also an opportunity to raise funds for Labour Behind the Label, a charity campaigning to improve the working conditions of garment workers worldwide. Talking at a press conference before the event, Caroline Lewis, Director of Fundraising at Labour Behind the Label, reminded how poor conditions can lead to a tragedy, such as the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013, in which 1,100 workers died. She also spoke about the responsibilities of organisations to guarantee health and safety standards through their supply chain.

Reflecting on the evening, Mike Robinson, Chief Executive of the British Safety Council, said: “The British Safety Council has a great spirit. Today’s celebrations clearly demonstrate that we have a lot to feel proud of, as well as many challenges and opportunities to address as we look forward to the next 60 years.”