John Howard Locke

John Howard Locke CB (26 December 1923 – 26 September 1998) was a British civil servant in the Department of Employment; the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; the Cabinet Office; and the Ministry of Transport. He was instrumental in implementing and championing the British risk-based approach to workplace health, safety and welfare: through drafting the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and as the first Director-General of the Health and Safety Executive, the body responsible for enforcing the provisions of the Act.

John Howard Locke

Born26 December 1923
King's Norton, Warwickshire
Died26 September 1998
Resting placeAngmering, Sussex
ResidenceRichmond, Surrey; East Preston, Sussex
Alma materQueen's College, Oxford
OccupationCivil servant
Years active1945-1993
EmployerBritish civil service
OrganizationMAFF, Cabinet Office, MoT, Dept of Employment, HSE
Net worth£76,711 (1999)
Spouse(s)Eirene Sylvia Sykes (m.1948-1998)
Children2 daughters
Parent(s)Percy John Howard Locke, Josephine Locke
HonoursCompanion of the Bath 1984


Locke was born in King’s Norton, Warwickshire, son of Percy John Howard Locke and Josephine Locke née Marshfield.[1] He was educated at Hymers College, Hull and Queen’s College, Oxford graduating in 1944 with a first class degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics.[2]

Locke joined the civil service in 1945 as an Assistant Principal in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries remaining there until 1965. He was promoted to Under-Secretary and worked in the Cabinet Office from 1965–66 and in the Ministry of Transport from 1966–68. His administrative abilities so impressed the Minister, Barbara Castle, that she took Locke with her when she was transferred to the Department of Employment and Productivity in 1968.[3] In 1971 Locke was promoted to Deputy-Secretary and remained in the Department of Employment from 1971–74 under the Conservative Administration. He was secretary to Lord Wilberforce's court of inquiry into the electricity industry pay dispute in 1971.[4][5][6][7] This was an unusually senior appointment for such a role and demonstrates the seriousness of the situation for the government. Negotiations between the industry and the unions had broken down in December 1970 and the unions had taken industrial action which led to major disruption of electricity supplies and the government had declared a state of emergency.[8] The Wilberforce court of inquiry was held in the week of 18 January and its report was published on 10 February 1971. The report noted that the majority of workers in the industry had not, between 1964 and 1969, been adequately compensated for changes to working conditions. The report recommended pay increases of £105 a year and an extra £35 a year for craftsmen and foremen plus improved shift payments and three additional days' holiday. The recommendations were incorporated in an agreement on 22 March.[9] Locke was largely responsible for drafting the Employment and Training Act 1973 which established the Manpower Services Commission; and personally would have wished to head the Commission although his career took another direction.[3] He was also responsible for reorganising the Department of Employment, including the Employment Service, the Training Service and Unemployment Benefit Service.

Workplace health, safety and welfare

Locke's major achievements were implementing the recommendations of the 1972 Robens Report on occupational safety and health by transposing it into statute as the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974; and leading the Health and Safety Executive for nine years.[10]

The Robens Report had noted the humanitarian cost – 1,000 fatalities and half a million injuries a year[11] – of the existing "bloated, fragmented, reactive and overly prescriptive system".[11] This would be replaced with redistribution of responsibilities away from statutory regulation to "those who create the risks and those who work with them".[12] Robens believed the role of the state was to facilitate good practice, establishing and strengthening the arrangements through which self-regulation could thrive.[10] However, this entailed considerable change within the machinery of government. From 1972 to 1974 Locke was involved in a "prolonged and intensive period of interdepartmental consultation" on the new arrangements; as the Secretary of State for Employment, Michael Foot, said: "what that means is that there was a first-class Whitehall row",[13] as Departments resisted the transfer of their health and safety functions to a new quasi-independent authority. Locke's "blend of creativity and steel" was deployed effectively to fuse together 13 organisations from six ministries.[3][14] He took over as Director of Occupational Safety and Health in the Department of Employment with the Chief Inspector of Factories and the Chief Employment Medical Adviser reporting to him. He also acted as Chairman of the shadow management board for the new Health and Safety Executive established by the 1974 Act.[15]

The Robens Report had envisaged the responsibility for health and safety would be vested in a single institution, the National Authority for Safety and Health at Work. However, Locke was instrumental in creating two new agencies instead of the single authority.[16] The Health and Safety Commission (HSC) developed health and safety policy: it was a tripartite organisation incorporating the interests of employees, employers and the public; realised through trade unions, employers organisations, and local authorities and professional bodies.[17] The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was, legally, a three person body corporate, comprising a Director-General and two Deputy Directors-General, its operational arm comprised officials enforcing the law, undertaking research and publicity and providing advice to the HSC.[10] Locke was the first Director-General of the Health and Safety Executive from its establishment on 1 January 1975 until December 1983. He actively promoted the regulatory model established by the Health and Safety at Work etc Act by publishing papers,[18] giving lectures,[19] and contributing to contemporary debates on safety issues[20][21][22] and health concerns.[23]

Career appraisal and legacies

Locke retired from the civil service in December 1983. Michael Foot, then Leader of the Opposition, paid tribute to him in Parliament, saying: "John Locke was one of the great civil servants, and without his inspiration and drive we would not have been able to establish the [Health and Safety] Commission in that way. His work has been of outstanding importance to the Commission".[24] His successor as Director-General, John Rimington, said that Locke was the first official to realise the importance of the professionalisation of occupational safety and health and "put his effort where his mouth was in helping, playing a leading part ... in the development of the framework for professional testing and examination".[25] Locke did a "good deal to maintain and improve the professional status" of safety advisers in the face of scepticism by some in the business community that advisers were "interpreting rules too strictly and making unnecessary and expensive demands".[3] Three years after retiring he accepted the unpaid chairmanship of the National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health until September 1993.[3] He was a director of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health until November 1993.[26] He was also invited by the Australian Government to advise on setting up a safety executive.[3]

Locke was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath in the New Year honours list 1984.[27]

Personal life

Locke married the architect Eirene Sylvia Sykes (21 September 1921 – 5 August 2012) daughter of Francis Adam and Dorothy Sykes, in the Methodist church Hinde Street Marylebone, London, on 17 July 1948.[28] They had two daughters, Diana R.C. Locke and (Carol) Imogen H. Locke.[1]

His hobbies included hill-walking, gardening, and contemporary opera. His dress style – Mao-style tunics, kaftans and mauve suits – sometimes amused or disconcerted conservative civil servants and business leaders.[3] In 1939 he was a scholar living with the Tinson family at Homes Burnby Lane Pocklington Yorkshire.[29] His address in 1948 was 73 Philbeach Gardens Earls Court London; then 4 Old Palace Terrace, Richmond, Surrey; and Box Trees, 8 Sea Road, East Preston, Sussex, BN16 1JP. He died in Sussex and was buried on 7 October 1998 in St. Margaret’s churchyard Angmering, Sussex.[30] His Will was made on 20 July 1993, probate of his estate was granted in Brighton on 4 February 1999.[31]

See also


  1. "FreeBMD".
  2. "Who's Who and Who was Who, 2017".
  3. John Locke Obituary, Times, 16 Oct 1998, p.29
  4. 'Treasury chief to face electricity inquiry', Times, 9 Jan 1971, p. 5
  5. Coal Industry (Wilberforce Report) House of Commons Debate 21 February 1972 vol 831 cc898-906
  6. Lord Wilberforce obituary, Civilised and balanced judge, cautious but acceptant of change: The Guardian, 19 Feb 2003.
  7. Lord Wilberforce obituary, The Daily Telegraph, 18 Feb 2003.
  8. The Electricity Council (1987). Electricity Supply in the United Kingdom. London: The Electricity Council. p. 104. ISBN 978-0-85188-105-8.
  9. Frank Ledger and Howard Sallis (1995). Crisis Management in the Power Industry. London: Routledge. pp. 41–42. ISBN 978-0-415-11876-7.
  10. Sirrs, Christopher (2015). "Accidents and Apathy: The Construction of the 'Robens Philosophy' of Occupational Safety and Health Regulation in Britain, 1961–1974". Social History of Medicine. 29 (1): 66–88. doi:10.1093/shm/hkv068. PMC 4743682. PMID 26858514.
  11. "Lord Robens, Safety and Health at Work, Report of the Committee, Cmnd. 5034, p.1" (PDF).
  12. "Lord Robens, Safety and Health at Work, Report of the Committee, Cmnd. 5034, p.12" (PDF).
  13. "Hansard, House of Commons Debates, 3 Apr 1974 Vol. 871 Col. 1287".
  14. The National Archives, BA 17/855, HS(72) 30th meeting 'Follow up of Robens Report on Safety and Health at Work', 8 Dec 1972.
  15. "Director of Safety, Interview with John Locke, Safety Management, February 1975, British Safety Council".
  16. The National Archives, BA 17/860, Department of Employment, 'Separation of the Commission and the Executive', 9 July 1973. For records of the Robens Committee see TNA LAB 96.
  17. "See Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, sections 10 & 11" (PDF).
  18. Locke, John (1976). "Provision of information and advice for the protection of health and safety at work". Aslib Proceedings. 28 (1): 8–16. doi:10.1108/eb050538.
  19. J. Locke, 'The politics of health and safety' Alexander Redgrave Memorial Lecture, 1981.
  20. 'MP attacks island oil plants expansion', The Guardian, 21 Jun 1978, p.2
  21. 'Unions will be safety watchdogs', The Guardian,1 Oct 1978, p.2
  22. 'Safety changes urged for Canvey Island plants', Times, 21 Jun 1978, p.2
  23. 'Safety executive director's plea to end rift over herbicide peril', The Guardian, 1 Jul 1980, p.2
  24. "Hansard, House of Commons Debates, 3 Feb 1984, Vol. 53 Cols. 23-24".
  25. "'Thirty-five years of health and safety – what has changed, and what has stayed the same' Address by John Rimington, House of Lords, 3 Nov 2009" (PDF).
  26. "Companies House Directorships".
  27. "New Years Honours 1984".
  28. Marriage certificate 1948
  29. Census 1939
  30. "John Howard Locke 1923 - 1998 BillionGraves Record".
  31. Grant of Probate, Brighton, 4 February 1999
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