British legislation has provided a number of Factory Acts to regulate conditions and workplace health and safety. The 1833 Factory Act was the first major piece of legislation aimed at improving working conditions of children in factories. British government legislation on factories and workshops actually began in 1802, with the Health and Morals of Apprentices Act, limiting hours of work in cotton mills to 12 per day and stipulating employers were to provide accommodation, clothing and education. A variety of "factory acts" and laws on health and safety have been issued in Britain since the major act of 1833.

1833 Factory Act in Britain

An important feature of Britain's 1833 Factory Act was the appointment of four factory inspectors to ensure the legislation was implemented. The Act was principally aimed at textile factories employing child workers and banned children under the age of nine from the workplace. Hours of work for children between the ages of nine and 13 were limited to no more than nine per day, with children between 13 and 18 limited to working a maximum of 12 hours a day. Child workers were also banned from working nights and employers had to provide a minimum of two hours a day schooling for each child. Four factory inspectors were insufficient to enforce the regulations imposed by the 1833 Factory Act. At the time of this law there were about 4,000 factory mills in Britain. This was, however, the first move towards imposing government control and legislation on working conditions and health and safety in the British workplace.

Background to 1833 Factory Act

Saltaire was a Victorian model village with woollen mills near Bradford, Yorkshire
Saltaire was a Victorian model village with woollen mills near Bradford, Yorkshire

The massive growth of factories in Britain owing to the Industrial Revolution resulted in poor working conditions, often very young children worked long hours and sometimes throughout the night. Poor employee working conditions were not entirely widespread in the Industrial Revolution, some factory owners built model villages and factories for employees. Examples of these model villages include Trowse in Norfolk, New Lanark, a Scottish cotton mill town founded by David Dale and Robert Owen in 1785, and Saltaire, a Yorkshire textile mill village founded by Titus Salt in 1851. As numbers of British factories grew, campaigners recognized poor and dangerous working conditions were hazardous. The 1802 Health and Morals of Apprentices Act was not enforced in any way, but by the 1830s the British parliament was determined to regulate factory conditions. Much of this reforming zeal was a result of the 'Ten-Hour Movement' campaign, supported by some mill and factory owners, members of parliament and humanitarian members of society.

Subsequent British Factory Acts of the 19th Century

From 1833 onward, factory legislation became an important aspect of industrialization. Further acts were put in place in 1844, 1847, 1850, 1853, 1860, 1864, 1867 and 1878 and inquiries into the employment of children took place in 1843 and between 1862 and 1866. The increased factory acts covered a larger number of industries, workshops and factories and by 1878 the legislation was also targeted towards conditions of women employed in factories.

British Factory Acts of the 20th Century

The British government enacted several more factory acts through the 20th century, they included the Factory and Workshop Act 1901, Factories Act 1937 and Factories Act 1961. A number of industry-specific acts also came into legislation. These acts created consistent labor law across U.K. workplaces and the British Parliament's daily record of proceedings, Hansard, contains details of the debates about these bills and their wording. From 1974 onwards provisions of the Factories Acts were encompassed under the wider Health and Safety at Work Act and subsequent bills.