Our History Timeline
The HSE Science and Research Centre has roots stretching back
over 100 years. In the early years safety research in coal mining
was our sole business. Since then we have evolved considerably into
a truly modern organisation that is not only internationally
acclaimed for its depth and quality of scientific expertise, but
also for the breath of disciplines it covers.
Explore our timeline to learn more about our history.
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World and HSE
Home Office Experimental Station created
The Home Office Experimental Station is established at Eskmeals
in Cumberland: the very first incarnation of the HSE Science and
Research Centre. For the first time the Government is directly
involved in mines safety research.
World War I lasted from July 1914 to November 1918.
Possibly one of the dealdliest conflicts in human history, it
nevertheless catalysed many societal and technological changes,
including in the world of work.
Bomb and gun range
The Frith Artillery Range is set up to test trench mortars and
other munitions during WW1. Shell fragments and other items
continue to be found on the HSE SRC site.
1918 influenza pandemic
Caused by the H1N1 influenza A virus and sometimes misleadingly
called 'Spanish flu,' this pandemic leads to the death of 25-50
million people worldwide. By 1920, the virus that caused the
pandemic had become much less deadly and caused only ordinary
Official opening of Buxton site
The site at Harpur Hill, Buxton is opened, taking over mine
safety work from HOES Eskmeals.
One of the reasons for choosing Harpur Hill was the requirement
that the site "must not be near any working coal mine" so as not to
alarm local residents when experimental explosions were undertaken.
In fact, the nearby stone quarries meant that the local population
was well used to the sound of explosions.
Sheffield laboratories open
The Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, opens new mines safety
laboratories in Portobello Street, Sheffield.
Alexander Fleming discovers the world's first broadly effective
antibiotic substance, penicillin. For this discovery, he shared the
1945 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Howard Florey and
First international Safety in Mines Conference
The first International Conference of Safety in Mines Research
Institute is held in Buxton.
999 introduced in UK
The 999 emergency phone number is introduced in central London.
The scheme was extended to major cities after World War II but only
achieved coverage of the whole of the UK in 1976.
Outbreak of World War II
The Second World War lasted from 1939 to 1945.
Like WWI, it also catalysed many societal and technological
Pneumoconiosis laboratory opened
A laboratory is set up in Sheffield to evaluate airborne dust
samples taken from mines by inspectors concerned at increasing
numbers of certified pneumoconiosis cases.
SMRB becomes part of the Ministry of Fuel and Power, which in
turn results in the work at Sheffield and Buxton being brought
together under the name 'Safety in Mines Research Establishment'
National Health Service launched
The NHS, one of the first universal health care systems in the
world, is launched with three core principles: That it meet the
needs of everyone, that it be free at the point of delivery, and
that it be based on clinical need, not ability to pay.
Creswell Colliery fire
A major fire at the Creswell Colliery leads to an increase in
research efforts on fire hazards in mines. Fire research continues to be a major
part of the work at HSE SRC.
Broad Lane laboratories open
The need to improve accommodation in Sheffield beyond the
potential of Portobello Street leads to the construction of new
premises at Broad lane. The laboratories are officially opened by
Lord Mills, the Minister of Power, on the 25th April 1957.
The Soviets win the space race with the launch of Sputnik 1.
The Occupational Medical Laboratory (OML) is founded in central
First man in space
The Sovite cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becomes the first man in
The development by Alan Baker at SMRE of the Pellistor marks a
major breakthrough in the measurement of firedamp (methane).
Instead of relying on the colour and shape changes of a safety lamp
flame, this electronic device leads to the development of portable
methanometers and other flammable gas detectors.
Surface gallery built
A 1200ft long surface gallery (tunnel) is completed on the
Buxton site. Seven feet high, the tunnel is built of reinforced
concrete and laid on a bed sand to allow some movement in response
to the explosion pressure.
The Occupational Hygiene Laboratory (OHL) is formed.
First man on the Moon
Neil Armstrong becomes the first man to set foot on the
The prototype SIMLIN (Safety in Mines Scattered Light
Instrument) is constructed. Airborne dust particles of respirable
size can now be made visible on-site.
Air Stream Helmet
The prototype dust helmet is invented at SMRE. A small fan and
bag filter mounted inside the helmet filters the dusty air, passing
a curtain of clean air over the wearer's face.
An explosion at a chemical plant close to the village of
Flixborough kills 28 people and seriously injures 36. The disaster
triggered a public outcry over process safety and, together with
the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, led to a more
systematic approach to process safety in the UK, now governed by
the COMAH Regulations.
Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974
HSE is created by the the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act
1974, the bulk of which came into force on 1 January 1975. HSWA is
the primary piece of legislation covering occupational health
and safety in Great Britain.
Asbestos (Licensing) Regulations
The Asbestos (Licensing) Regulations 1983 come into law.
The Control of Industrial Major Accident Hazards Regulations
1984 (CIMAH) come into force.
King's Cross fire
At approximately 19:30 on 18 November 1987 a fire started under
a wooden escalator at King's Cross St Pancras tube station and, at
19:45, flashed over into the ticket hall, killing 31 people and
Computer modelling suggested that the fire had travelled
parallel to the escalator rather than rising vertically. This was
thought unlikely by experts at the time, so HSE scientists built a
one-third model on the Buxton site and recreated the fire, which
behaved as predicted and in line with eye-witness accounts,
including the flashover. Later named the 'trench effect', this
phenomenon was completely unknown before the fire.
The King's Cross work was an early example of HSE SRC's rare
ability to experimentally validate computer models.
Piper Alpha disaster
A series of explosions destroys the Piper Alpha oil platform in
the North Sea. In total, 167 people die in the world's worst
offshore oil disaster.
Lord Cullen's inquiry made 106 recommendations, including moving
the responsibility for enforcing safety in the North Sea from the
Department of Energy to HSE.
The Health and Safety Law Poster introduced
The Health and Safety Information for Employees Regulations
1989, require employers to display HSE-approved information on what
employees should expect. The HSE Law poster is now a common sight
in workplaces across the UK.
HSE scientists have supported the various investigations into
the disaster at Hillsborough Stadium in which 97 people lost their
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1988
come into force on 1 October 1989, replacing a whole raft of
previous legislation, much of it industry-specific.
HSE takes responsibility for rail safety
Her Majesty's Railway Inspectorate, responsible for railway
safety regulation since 1840, moves from the Department of
Transport to HSE.
HSE introduced a new regulatory framework to manage the
challenges to railway safety culture and risk management that took
place during this period.
HMRI moved again in 2006 to the then Office of Rail Regulation.
Labour Force Survey
HSE starts to collect data on ill health and injuries through
Labour Force Survey. The LFS is the largest household study in
the UK and covers the people's employment circumstance, including
conditions which they think have been caused or made worse by their
current or past work.
Offshore Safety Division established
HSE'S Offshore Division is established at the recommendation of
Lord Cullen's inquiry into the explosion on the Piper Alpha
offshore platform in 1988.
First commercial lithium-ion battery
The first commercial Li-ion battery is developed by a Sony and
Asahi Kasei team led by Yoshio Nishi, building on a 1985 prototype
developed by Akira Yoshino.
The 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was given to Akira Yoshino,
John Goodenough and Stanley Whittingham for the development of
lithium ion batteries.
World Wide Web created
Computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee, working at CERN, releases
his WWW software in early 1991. It includes a 'line-mode' browser,
Web server software and a library for developers. In an August post
to the Usenet group alt.hypertext he sets out the specifications
for a worldwide, interconnected web of data, accessible to anyone
The Health and Safety Laboratory is created from HSE's RLSD as
an agency of HSE, encouraging a more commercial,
customer-contractor, way of working - including with HSE
Digital storage cheaper than paper
Digital storage becomes more cost effective than paper.
RIDDOR 1995 introduced
The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences
Regulations 1995 are introduced, consolidating a number of earlier
regulations on the reporting of workplace accidents and diseases.
Certain industries, such as mining and offshore working, had
additional provisions placed on them.
Google Search debuts
Google Search debuts this year - and for the next 20 years (at
least) its name will become shorthand for searching the
Breath sampler developed
Scientists at HSL develop a breath sampler for capturing
volatile organic compounds, important markers of a person's
exposure to certain chemicals.
Gas Safety Regulations intoduced
The Regulations impose a duty on employers to ensure that people
carrying out work on gas installations have been approved by
The Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1999 come into
force on 1 October, replacing CIMAH.
COMAH requires operators of sites handling hazardous materials
to prepare major accident prevention policies and emergency plans
to "prevent major accidents and limit their consequences for
persons and the environment."
Hatfield rail disaster
HSE investigates a metal fatigue-induced derailment that
killed four people and injured more than 70. The serious nature of
the problem leads to widespread disruption on the rail network as
remedial work is carried out across the country.
Great Heck rail disaster
HSE investigates when a InterCity 225 passenger train collides
with a vehicle and trailer that has crashed onto the line from the
M62 and is derailed into the path of an oncoming freight train. Ten
people lost their lives, including the drivers of both trains, and
82 were seriously injured.
The vehicle driver received a custodial sentence on multiple
counts of causing death by dangerous driving.
Great Heck remains the worst rail disaster of the 21st century
in the United Kingdom.
SpaceX, a private-sector company, is founded in California with
the aim of decreasing the cost and improving the reliability of
access to space.
Potter's Bar rail disaster
HSE investigates when a northbound train, passing over a set of
points, is derailed at high speed. Seven people died and 76 were
injured. The principal cause of the accident was found to be poor
track maintenance, which led to substantial public debate and a
national change in policy relating to maintenance of rail
WHO informed of an outbreak of SARS-CoV-1 in China. Cases are
subsequently reported around the world until May 2004. SARS was
identified as probably a new and highly contagious viral
Graphene is isolated and investigated by Andre Geim and
Konstantin Novoselov at the University of Manchester. Both were
awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics for this work.
New laboratories open in Buxton
HSL's new laboratory building in Buxton is officially opened,
bringing together the facilities from Buxton and Sheffield. For the
first time since its very early history, all staff are located
under the one roof. The Sheffield site is sold to Sheffield
Control of Asbestos Regulations
The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 comes into force,
bringing together a number of other asbestos related pieces of
legislation, with a greater emphasis on training and on reducing
HSE assists the RAIB investigation into the fatal derailment
near Greyrigg in Cumbria. One person lost their life and 30 were
seriously injured. The cause is determined to be faulty points, the
condition of which had gone undetected.
Deliveries of the first production Tesla Roadsters begin. It is
the first all-electric car in serial production to use lithium-ion
batteries and the first production all-electric car to travel more
than 200 miles per charge.
Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, tells a conference
that as much data is now being created every two days as was
created from the beginning of human civilization to the year
Equality Act 2010
The Equality Act protects people against discrimination,
harassment or victimisation in employment, and as users of private
and public services, based on nine protected characteristics.
DeepMind Technologies founded
DeepMind Technologies, a British artificial intelligence
company, is set up in London. Later acquired by Google, the company
works on deep reinforcement learning algorithms in a numer of areas
including game playing, protein folding and clinical data.
100 years of HSL
The Health and Safety Laboratory celebrates its centenary,
tracing its pedigree back to the Home Office Experimental Station
established in 1911, and looking forward to the challenges of a
rapidly changing work of work.
European Commission defines a nanomaterial
The European Commission adopts a formal definition of a
nanomaterial: "A natural, incidental or manufactured material
containing particles... [where] ...one or more external dimensions
is in the size range 1 nm - 100 nm."
RIDDOR 2013 updates accident reporting requirements. One key
change is the introduction of 'specified injuries', which replaces
the previous 'major injury' category. The requirement to report
injuries that lead to absence from work is changed from 'over 3
days' to 'over 7 days'.
Ebola virus epidemic
The Western African Ebola virus epidemic (2013-2016) was the
most widespread outbreak of Ebola virus disease in history. HSE
worked to monitor and protect in this time, as well as educate
hospitals on how to manage cases in the UK.
Mobile Internet use dominates
The rise of the mobile machines - for the first time, more
people are using mobile devices to access digital data than office
or home computers.
The Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) Regulations 2015
come into effect, replacing the 1999 Regulations. They seek to
ensure that businesses "Take all necessary measures to prevent
major accidents involving dangerous substances" and "Limit the
consequences to people and the environment of any major accidents
which do occur."
Alton Towers Smiler incident
HSE investigates when a loaded train collides with an empty test
train, causing life-changing and other serious injuries to a number
of riders. Merlin Entertainments, owner of the theme park, were
fined £5 million after pleading guilty to a breach of health and
Last deep coal mine in the UK closes
Kellingley Colliery closes on 18 December 2015, marking the end
of deep-pit coal mining in Britain.
Didcot Power Station collapse
HSE investigates when a large section of the boiler house at
Didcot A Power Station collapsed, while the building was being
prepared for demolition. Four men were killed in the collapse.
The Paris Agreement on climate change is signed by 195 nations,
having been drafted at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change
Conference (COP 21). The United States withdrew from the agreement
in 2020, but rejoined in 2021.
Grenfell Tower fire
Fire breaks out on 14 June 2017 in the 24-storey Grenfell Tower
block of flats in West London and burns for over 60 hours.
Seventy-two people lost their lives and 20 others were seriously
injured. An Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire
Safety commissioned in the aftermath ultimately led to the creation
of the Building Safety Regulator in 2020.
HSL becomes HSE Science and Research Centre
HSL becomes the HSE Science and Research Centre.
COVID-19 outbreak in China
The first cases of disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus emerge
in China. Cases spread rapidy around the world and the WHO declares
a pandemic on 11 March 2020.
3D printers become consumer items
3D printers have reached the level of quality and price that
allows them to move into consumer markets. Fused deposition
modeling (FDM), which uses a continuous filament of
a thermoplastic material, is the most common 3D printing
process in use as of 2020.
VIOLET helps COVID-19 research
VIOLET, a manikin developed by HSE, is used in training NHS
staff in the use of PPE ensembles when handling infectious
patients. The system uses fluorescent markers to visualise the
spread of different bodily fluids and cross-contamination of staff
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick announces the immediate
establishment of the new Building Safety Regulator (BSR) within
HSE. It will enforce a new, more stringent set of rules that will
apply to buildings of 18 metres and above or taller than 6
Sale of new petrol and diesel cars banned in UK
Sales of new petrol and diesel cars will be banned in the UK
under plans announced in 2020.
UK electricity system carbon-free
The UK has committed to decarbonise its electricity system by
UK to achieve Net Zero
The UK Government has committed, through legislation, to
achieving a 'net zero' economy by 2050.
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