An unhealthy and unsafe past

Scroll back a couple of hundred years and the British workplace was a dismal and dangerous environment.

Friedrich Engels, a German social scientist, spent time in Manchester’s slums and documented his findings in his book: “The Condition of the Working Class in England”. It makes chilling reading.

Factory workers endured the most appalling conditions and life expectancy was short.

Deformity and stunted growth, caused by constant bending and stooping, affected most workers. Infectious disease was rife. People with missing hands or limbs were a frequent sight on the streets of Manchester and death from tetanus was common.

But worst of all was becoming entangled in the giant strapping on the machines:

“Whoever is seized by the strap is carried up with lightening speed, thrown against the ceiling above and the floor below with such force that there is rarely a whole bone left in the body and death follows instantly”.

One poor girl died, “utterly mangled”, after being flung round by the strap 50 times.

Enlightened times

We are fortunate to be living in more enlightened times, the lessons of the past forming a strong foundation upon which today’s health and safety regulations reside.

Some, however, argue that the new age of health and safety has gone too far. They cite the “elf an’ safety brigade” as the creator of protectionist regulation which weighs heavy around the neck of capitalist prosperity.

Perhaps the state should review the current system – in fact, they are. Likewise, commercial enterprises need to regularly review their internal safety systems.

We must always take stock of the past however, balancing these opinions and exaggerated stories of safety against a time when industrial progress was put over safety.

The times have a’ changed and, indeed, are a changin’ – this is to be welcomed. And, when pitting personal prosperity over personal safety, we know who we are batting for every time.

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