Safety at Work and Working Hours

Resource Type: Image | Posted on 9th December 2011 by Liam Physick

This page explains two of the key factors in the establishment of trade unions. The first section, “Safety at Work”, deals with the high death rate on the railways in the nineteenth century, caused by long working hours and the obsession of the railway bosses with saving money at all costs - an attitude that is certainly prevalent today, in the current debates on health and safety legislation, and claims about “regulatory burdens on business”. What is more, in those days companies would divide accidents reported to the Board of Trade into two categories: “from causes beyond the servants’ own control” and “due to their servants’ own misconduct and want of caution”. Only workers in the former category were entitled to compensation, and needless to say the railway companies classified nine out of 10 incidents in the latter group - and also no compensation could be paid if the accident was the fault of a colleague. The ASRS lobbied hard for shorter hours, safer working practices and a right to compensation for injuries (another thing often complained about today): they managed to pressure the companies into making improvements, and to persuade Parliament to pass the Railways (Prevention of Accidents) Act 1900, the Employers’ Liability Act 1880 and the Workmen’s Compensation Act 1897, which reduced the numbers of fatalities on the railways. The second section, “Working Hours” deals with one specific cause of fatalities: a Select Committee on Railway Servants’ Hours of Labour was set up, and while it was sitting, workers on two Scottish railway companies, the North British and the Caledonian, went on strike in protest at their hours of work: some worked 25 hours non-stop. Hood, a station master on the Cambrian Railway, was dismissed for testifying before the Committee. The Railway Regulation Act 1893 gave the Board of Trade the power to regulate railway working hours, but was ineffective. A 48-hour week was achieved in 1919, and, by 1981, the pamphlet reports, it will become 39 hours

Safety at Work and Working Hours

Tagged under: railway workers, national union of railwaymen, trade unions, amalgamated society of railway servants, caledonian railway, station masters, cambrian railway, north british railway

Categorised under: Work & Industry

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