These days we are all protected at work by health and safety. As much as you all now grown, it is about protecting you. If you’ve been told how to do something safely then you should be safe. But what happened in the past. Well health and safety didn’t exist. You just crawled into the small spaces under machinery or poured molten metal with no protection. If you were hurt or worse so be it. The worse happened to 2 of my ancestors.
It was an industrial engine that took the life of Archibald Dow Jn my 3 times great grandfather. Archibald was born in Govan, just outside Glasgow, Scotland about 1811. He was one of 16 children born to Archibald Dow and Diana Harker. He married Mary Cameron and had 3 sons. He was employed as an engineman at the Newlandsfield bleach works in Pollockshaw (an area of Glasgow). On the 10th May 1848 Archibald was found in the filter of one of the engines at the works. He was 37 years old. It was initially feared that he had jumped into the machinery deliberately, but the findings of the sheriff were that he had fallen while carrying out maintenance. Archibald had been employed by the works for 24 years (since he was 13 years old). The fallout of the accident had a huge impact on his family. In 1851 his 2 surviving children were living with his parents who were in there late 60’s/early 70’s and who knows where his wife had gone. My 4 times great grandparents seemed to have loads of their grandchildren living with them.
My second ancestor who died at work was my 3 times great uncle Henry Dobby. He was employed to operate the hoist at the Tetley Brewery in Leeds. Henry was born in 1819 in Pateley Bridge, West Riding of Yorkshire to my 4 times great grandparents Henry and Mary Dobby. He was married with 7 children.
Henry died in 1878 when he was 58 years old. Henry was operating the hoist when the chain broke and the item being lifted fell 3 floors. The mechanism that was supposed to prevent falling failed. Henry was underneath at the time and was hit by the item. He died in hospital several days later. The inquest into his death recorded his death was accidental. At the time of his death Henry’s youngest son was only 9 years old. Again the impact on his family must have been huge.
Although a death at work could be devastating to a family it could actually be worse in some ways if they survived. Families could be devastated by the loss of an income with no prospect of a new source of income if the injury was bad enough. Also they could be left with a severely injured family member to care for and medical bills to pay (before 1948 when the NHS was established). But if you think beyond the family injuries could devastate a community. Coming from South Yorkshire injuries at work were common. You had the coal fields, the cutlery industry and the steel works. All were dangerous places to work. You’ve got flying sparks which could set you on file. Red hot molten metal being poured which could severely burn you or you could have the most horrible fate of all in the coal mines. You could be buried alive, die from poisonous gas or die in an explosion
The worse colliery disaster in England happened in Barnsley in 1866. 388 men and boys died in several explosions caused by exploding gas over 2 days at the Oaks Colliery. Just think of the impact on the town. Potentially 388 families lost a loved one who could potentially have been the main income provider of the family. It could have been worse and a family could have lost multiple members. This would have led to high levels of poverty in the community and could have led to businesses closing down and at the worst end of the scale could have meant families entering the workhouse.
So next time anyone complains about health and safety just remember they are keeping you alive. How many of our ancestors would have had a full and long life if health and safety existed in the past.