‘Appreciable Injury to Health’ - Confronting Health and Safety in Australia’s Workplaces During the First Half of the Twentieth Century

By Rosemary Webb.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

A state’s management of workplace safety is one indicator of its integrity. This paper uses historical evidence to demonstrate the past and current resonance of this position. It examines workplace risk and abuse in Australia, and considers the impact of legislation targeting occupational health and safety, including laws effectively protecting vested interests rather than social justice at work. Such interests included capital rather than labour, and male workers rather than female. Historical scenarios suggest how a risk management approach to worker health and safety became embedded in corporate and political culture. Challenging this culture, twentieth century deaths from silicosis and from lead poisoning, and from employment-related asbestosis, illustrate the consequence of employer refusal to eliminate known dangerous materials and processes from the workplace. Drawing on labour and government manuscripts, this analysis identifies OHS risk and abuse, focusing on Australia for the first half of the twentieth century, and with reference to findings and legislation in the UK that informed parties negotiating OHS in Australia. The paper argues that acknowledgement of past abuses, and an understanding of failures to repair abuse, is essential if the state is to properly address current workplace safety crimes.

Keywords: Occupational Health and Safety, OHS History, Workplace, Safety Crime, Legal Ethics, OHS Governance, Safety Management, Labour Relations, Industrial Relations, Risk, Social Justice, The State

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 6, Issue 10, pp.87-96. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 559.683KB).

Dr. Rosemary Webb

Lecturer, School of Arts and Social Sciences,, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Southern Cross University, Lismore, Australia

Dr. Rosemary Webb lectures in politics at Southern Cross University. As a labour historian, her research has addressed the collaborative industrial strategies of Sydney’s female trade union organisers and women activists in the interwar years. She is currently investigating historical and political dynamics in geography, justice and mobilisation, particularly through mobilisation around workplace health and safety.


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