James Tye at 100 – celebrating the campaigner’s life

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The founder of British Safety Council, James Tye was born in London on 21 December 1921, so would have been celebrating his 100th birthday this month.

During World War II it is said that he witnessed sailors drowning as a result of faulty lifejackets, and that this encouraged him to campaign for better safety. Having served in the RAF, James became an advertising agent, an experience that no doubt helped him become the successful campaigner he was. Below are key highlights from his life and some achievements from his career.

1. Dogged and determined: James campaigned for driver safety for over 20 years, having produced one of the first reports on the need for seat belt laws in 1959. The law was finally changed to mandate the wearing of seat belts in 1983.

James Tye holding up the original report he commissioned into seatbelt safety in 1959. Photograph: British Safety Council archives

2. High achiever: throughout the 1960s, James campaigned for a Royal Commission into the state of safety and health at work, and finally got his way in 1970 when the Robens Committee was established. Its report led to the landmark 1974 Health and Safety Act and the creation of the Health and Safety Executive.

James Tye with Lord Robens, Minister for Labour (second from right). Photograph: British Safety Council archives

3. Ahead of his time: in the 1980s, James set up the British Wellness Council to produce messages on how to stay physically and mentally healthy. British Safety Council now offers training in wellbeing best practice through its Being Well Together programme and its sister charity Mates in Mind raises awareness of mental health issues in construction, transport and logistics sectors.

Roy Castle with Tye. A non-smoker, Castle blamed his lung cancer on passive smoking during his years of playing the trumpet in smoky jazz clubs. Photograph: British Safety Council archives

4. Recognised globally: in 1987, James was named World Safety Person of the Year by the World Safety Organisation and became one of the first Europeans included in the American Safety and Health Hall of Fame International.He often worked with celebrities like Esther Rantzen.

James Tye with Esther Rantzen in the 1980s. Photograph: British Safety Council archives

5. Not afraid to offend: James liked using posters to create impact. In 1995, one even featured the Pope in a hard hat to raise awareness of the risks of HIV and had to be pulled after it became one of the most complained about UK adverts ever.

One of the most complained about UK adverts ever. Photograph: British Safety Council archives

For more on James Tye’s life and achievements, visit the British Safety Council’s Digital Archive.





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