View largeDownload slide Photo credit: Newcastle University View largeDownload slide Photo credit: Newcastle University Dangerous Trades is a monumental book. At nearly 900 pages, 220 being written by the editor and the rest by 37 other contributing authors from a wide range of backgrounds, it breaks new ground. This is not just a medical text, but a book that looks at the sociology, technology and politics of the harm caused by work. It also provides a unique commentary on the then current initiatives to reduce such harm. A 2004 facsimile reprint of Dangerous Trades also includes an introduction by Stephen Bonner and John Harrison, which places the book in its historical context . Although only 10 years had passed since Arlidge’s book had been published, there had been immense changes in the political debate, with laissez faire giving way to a series of regulatory developments aimed at tackling the health risks of work. The Home Office had set up a series of dangerous trade committees to investigate risk and this had led to the introduction of Special Rules for the safe conduct of these trades . Workmen’s compensation, at least for accidents, had been introduced and the special problems of women workers had come to public attention. One of the major consequences of these developments was the need for the government to engage experts to help define the nature of problems and what should be done to tackle them. Oliver was one of the leading experts, who had been called on to investigate lead poisoning, first in white lead workers and then in the potteries, as well as to look into ways of reducing the hazards from yellow phosphorus in the match-making industry . Not surprisingly these topics are covered in some detail in the book. The government also needed expertise for more focused inspection activities as the Factory Inspectorate moved from dealing with the relatively straightforward problems of accident prevention, especially from moving machinery, into the medical problems of health risks at work and into the practical, social and moral issues surrounding the employment of women. This led to the appointment of ‘Lady Inspectors of Factories’ in 1893 and to the recruitment of Thomas Legge, a public health doctor, as the first medical inspector in 1898. Both Legge and several of the women inspectors make important contributions to the book. One of the first priorities for these newly appointed inspectors was to quantify health risks and the chapters they wrote include statistical data on morbidity and information on the numbers of workers at risk collected from dangerous trade committee investigations and from the first few years’ returns of industrial disease notification. Additional statistics on mortality come from the General Register Office, in the chapter by Dr Tatum. Quantification of risk in terms of level and duration of exposure features in general terms in several of the chapters on specific dangerous trades. It reaches a new level of precision in J. S. Haldane’s chapter on mine gasses, where the risks from exposure to common mine contaminants are described in ways that lay the ground for later work on the risks of inhalation of toxic gasses and vapours, thus preparing the way for the contributions of the, as yet, undifferentiated field of occupational hygiene to disease prevention. The position on the risks from dust inhalation is less well defined, as reliable methods of measurement had not been developed and the key characteristics of the harmful effects of different dusts had yet to be identified. Compared with Arlidge’s analysis, there is better understanding of the secondary role of tuberculous infection in those with fibrotic lung disease, and a wide range of trades are described where such conditions have a high incidence. Descriptions of different lung appearances are given; however, the pathology of silicosis and the role of coal dust as a cause of lung disease had yet to be understood. Oliver’s introduction provides a brilliant critique of the shortcomings of the use of Special Rules to manage risk in the dangerous trades. These rules did not always apportion responsibilities fairly between workers and employers and were subject to appeals to arbitration. Appeals were commonly made by employers to avoid the costs of control and could lead to lengthy delays and to inconsistent approaches to the same risk in different premises. Oliver had personal experience of the delays and of employer deviousness following his recommendations for the limitation of lead glazing in the potteries and for the use of ‘fritted’ glazes (where the lead was safely contained in glassy beads). He welcomes the proposal to remove the right to arbitration and to place decision making firmly in the hands of the Factory Inspectorate. The introduction also discusses the need to extend workmen’s compensation to industrial diseases. He identifies some of the difficulties but points to anthrax as an example of an industrial disease which has the immediacy of an industrial accident. This was a very prescient view in 1902. The 1905 decision of the House of Lords, in the case of Brinton’s vs. Turvey, to pay workmen’s compensation benefits to the widow of a Kidderminster wool worker, paved the way for the inclusion, in 1906, of a list of occupational diseases within the compensation scheme. Oliver in all his contributions to the book and in his choice of co-authors presents a forward looking ‘social gospel’ for harm reduction in industry. Unlike Arlidge, a few years before, he recognized some of the backward-looking tendencies of British employers: ‘Instead of hugging themselves into a state of industrial lethargy which our insular position and national prejudices encourage, it would be well if they sent their sons and heads of departments abroad to see what other nations are doing.’ While the habits of workers, especially in relation to alcohol, do receive the usual criticism, he clearly recognizes the role of poverty and poor housing as causes of health impairment. Dangerous Trades was written at a time when there was a major debate taking place on ‘national deterioration’, brought about by the high level of medical rejection of recruits to the army for the Boer war, especially among those coming from urban areas. This debate subsequently put a premium on women remaining at home to look after young children. Oliver’s stand in favour of this in his later writings has led to his demonization in some feminist circles. However, in Dangerous Trades, he leaves most of the commentary on this topic to other authors. He does justify his earlier conclusions by reference to studies he and others did between 1880 and 1900 which indicated greater susceptibility to lead poisoning in young women. These findings were in addition to the well-recognized increased risk of miscarriage in women exposed to lead. Together they led to a prohibition on women working in white lead manufacture. This was the cause of considerable anger among feminists of that time, which was directed at both Oliver and especially at the newly recruited band of female factory inspectors for their role in encouraging discriminatory legislation directed against their sex. Oliver can be seen throughout the book as a concerned and social conscious liberal who believed in the need for a scientifically supported collaborative approach to solving the problems of occupational health. He was certainly no socialist and commented critically on the adverse effects of organized labour. Indeed he dedicates the book to Asquith, then the Home Secretary, who later became the Liberal Prime Minister. Dangerous Trades became the guidebook and mentor for all those concerned with the health risks of industry for much of the first half of the 20th century, despite never running to a second edition. References 1. Bonner Stephen, Harrison John. In: Thomas Oliver, ed. Dangerous Trades: History of Health and Safety at Work . London: Thoemmes Continuum, 2004. 2. Bartrip PWJ. The Home Office and the Dangerous Trades: Regulating Occupational Disease in Victorian and Edwardian Britain . Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Rodopi, 2002. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS 3. Bishop WJ, Bartrip PWJ. Oliver, Sir Thomas. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography . http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/printable/35308 ( 12 July 2017, date last accessed). © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society of Occupational Medicine. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Occupational Medicine – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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