50 Years Ago: Perils of Modern Industry

The Committee [Departmental Committee on Accidents in Places under the Factory and Workshops Acts] was appointed in 1908 by the then Home Secretary, who was compelled to take this step owing to the enormous yearly increase in the number of reported accidents in factories and workshops that had taken place. The total rose from 79,020 in 1900 to 100,609 in 1905, while between 1905 and 1907 there was a further striking increase, the figures being

Total Fatal
1905 100,609 1,063
1906 111,904 1,116
1907 123,325 1,179

The conclusions arrived at by the Committee as to the causes of the increase appear to have been made as vague as possible. But we read in Section IV, “Causes Tending to Increase or Decrease Accident Risk.”

“A considerable amount of evidence was given to show that work was now done at a greater speed and higher pressure than formerly.” And further that “Much of the increase was attributed to the general raising of the standard of effort in all spheres of life.” Evidence was given that in the textile trades machines run faster than formerly; in wool weaving, for example, looms working at 80 picks a minute were thought fast ten years ago, but now the new ones run at 100 picks a minute.

As regards engineering, the increased speed of cutting tools was referred to, and evidence was given showing that the speed of punching, shearing, bending, and squeezing machines had increased. In iron and steel works, and in tinplate works, the Committee were told that improved machinery had led to increased speed.

There was something of a diversity of opinion as regards Piece Work, but generally the evidence was that piece work, task work, and bonus systems of payment tended to cause undue hurry.

(From the Socialist Standard, May, 1911.)

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