The earliest recorded occupational health service in this country was that established in a cotton spinning factory at Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire. The mill was built in 1784 by Samuel Greg and his partners. They employed local labour and also some parish apprentices. Happily, Samuel Greg was a good christian and, having created a modern factory and a model village with a church and a school, he was equally concerned for the physical welfare of his employees. Accordingly, he appointed a doctor to make pre-employment examinations of the apprentices and to visit regularly to deal with the health problems of a community of some 400 people. The man he chose was Peter Holland of Sandlebridge, who had served his medical apprenticeship under Dr Charles White of Manchester. The first record of the employment of a doctor was in 1796, but from 1804 to 1845 (doubtless in response to the early factory legislation) each visit of the doctor was entered in a day book with either an indication of fitness to work or details of the treatment required. The complete record consists of two hardback foolscap notebooks that provide a fascinating insight into the medical practice of the times when the industrial revolution was just getting under way. One of the more interesting features is the preservation of medical secrecy. Dr Holland made his comments on the case in shorthand and his instructions in longhand. By a fortunate coincidence the key to the shorthand was discovered and this has now been largely transcribed. Although much of the content of the diaries is the day by day practice of medicine at the time, there are many illuminating glimpses of the early practice of occupational medicine.
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