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Emergence of occupational medicine in Victorian times
  1. W. R. Lee
  1. aDepartment of Occupational Health, University of Manchester

    Abstract

    Lee, W. R. (1973).British Journal of Industrial Medicine,30, 118-124. Emergence of occupational medicine in Victorian times. The events surrounding the establishment and development of legislation to protect the health of people at work in Victorian times are already well documented. This paper deals with some other aspects of the development of occupational medicine.

    Medical opinions at the time did not always see the misuse of child labour as due simply to avaricious mill owners, but in part due to the parents and in part to the workmen subcontractors. The establishment of the certifying surgeons is briefly reviewed and their coming together to form an association in 1868 may be related to questions about the need for medical certificates of age which were being requested by the many factory owners brought under factory legislation for the first time in 1864 and 1867.

    The plight of injured workmen and their dependents was early recognized, although it was late in the Victorian era before any statutory provision was made for them. The idea of linking compensation with preventive measures came to the fore in 1845 when some Manchester doctors, later supported by Edwin Chadwick, examined the workings at the Woodhead railway tunnel across the Pennines. When compensation legislation was passed some half a century later the idea was lost, and to this day compensation for and prevention of industrial injury and disease remain separated.

    The change of industrial diseases from a medical curiosity to a problem requiring State intervention is traced over the latter part of the Victorian era.

    The whole piecemeal pattern illustrating the precept that `social problems come first, social philosophy after' has persisted until the far-reaching changes in health and safety legislation of the present day.

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    Footnotes

    • 1 Based on a paper read to the Society for the Social History of Medicine at Leicester, 15 July 1972

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