The growth and awareness of health and safety at work, 1780-1900

  • Rhoda H. Bedington

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis examines the growth and awareness of health and safety at work between 1780 and 1900. In this period the hazards at work were increased by the intensification of production brought about by the Industrial Revolution, and new risks to health arose from the wider range of toxic substances in use by manufacturing industry. There is discussion in the thesis of the extent to which the problems were identified in an age of short life expectancy and limited medical knowledge. The sources studied have been largely medical, governmental, trade and press reports. The emphasis is on the first effects seen and recommendations made, and where possible, the extent of the problem and the effectiveness of any preventative measures adopted and examined. There is discussion of the growing involvement of the Government in industrial health and safety. The subject is viewed in the light of modern thinking on industrial health but uses a classification appropriate to historical resources. Psychological and minor afflictions, neglected in the 19th century, are not considered. The available literature is reviewed in each section. Three detailed case studies conclude the thesis, two on the notoriously dangerous occupations of metal grinding and pottery, and one on occupational eye injuries. Each study is based on a different type of source material. The thesis overall shows that there was extensive concern for health and safety at work, but no systematic approach and only ad hoc implementation of preventative measures; and that the rate at which conditions improved varied between different industries and different categories of workers . However, some modern principles of health and safety at work can be seen emerging, and the period laid the necessary medical, technical and legal foundations for developments in the present century.
Date of Award1983
Original languageEnglish


  • growth
  • awareness
  • health
  • safety
  • work
  • 1780-1900
  • industry
  • accidents
  • technology
  • medicine

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