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Accidents at work

Reproduced by permission of Historic EnglandThe Industrial Revolution, with the emphasis on productivity that it brought about, helped make many people's lives harder and shorter, while simultaneously allowing plant owners to increase their wealth. The more intensive processes used had a far greater potential for accidents than had existed previously.

Children were frequently employed to work in confined places as their size made them ideally suited for this. From the chimneys of the cities to the textile mills of the North, thousands of children endured terrible conditions for an appalling wage. Small children scampered amongst the machinery of the weaving mills, freeing trapped bobbins and snagged threads, and frequently losing fingers in the process.

The major scene of many disasters, however, was not in the factory but underground. Both children and adults laboured deep beneath the surface, mining for metals and coal. In the process, people were at risk from collapsing roofs, falling hoists and floofing. In coal mining the risk from explosive gases was added to these hazards.

The many monuments to mining disasters, especially in the pit communities of the North and the tin communities of the South-West, testify to the dangers encountered by miners. However, reading the gravestones in the cemetery of any mining town will give a brief glimpse into the hundreds of untold individual tragedies that occurred.

The scale of many disasters caused widespread public outcry, touching the growing social conscience of the later 19th century. The accidents that occurred in the mills, factories and mines of Britain produced a legacy of unionism, legislation, age limits, health and safety innovations and convalescent homes. As is so often the case, the health and safety issues of the workplace that we take for granted today were not preventative measures, but rather intended to decrease the chances of a repetition of previous catastrophes.

Story author: English Heritage

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