Victorians, and in particular Victorian children, often worked under extreme conditions that were essentially work accidents waiting to happen. Some of those jobs included searching the sewage along the River Thames’ banks for bits of copper or coins; spending 14 hours each day picking stones on farms; or climbing barefoot (and usually naked) up flues as climbing boys for chimney sweeps.
No health and safety at work for match maker Victorians
One of the worst jobs of the time was making matches. Often crammed with 20 or more others into tiny rooms with no ventilation, match makers were exposed to toxic phosphorous fumes at all times. Compositions of phosphorous and sulphur were mixed and heated in the same room where matches were dipped into these mixtures and dried. The white, poisonous vapour constantly rising throughout the room resulted in many workers suffering from ‘phossy jaw’. This dreadful work-related condition typically started with a toothache, soon to be followed by swelling of the jaw and gums. Eventually, abscesses would form, and as the sufferer’s jaw literally rotted away, it would glow in the dark. Treating this condition consisted of completely removing the jawbone.
Tanners and industrial diseases for Victorians
Victorian tanners were regularly exposed to a combination of bacteria, chemicals, rancid fumes from bate (a foul concoction containing water and dog faeces used to remove lime and help to soften hides) and smoke. As a result, many developed serious work induced health problems, including degenerative illnesses. At the time, there was no help for those becoming unable to work, often leaving whole families in abject poverty.
Industrial illnesses in the 21st Century
Health and safety regulations have improved working conditions significantly since then, and workers no longer have to put up with dangerous working environments like those described above. In spite of this, accidents at work can and will happen, and even today, workers do sometimes end up with serious work injuries or work-related illnesses. Fortunately, their families will not have to face starvation, as help is at hand in the shape of sickness pay, disability benefits and, depending on circumstances, the potential to claim for work injury compensation.
Accident Advice Helpline
For the past 13 years Accident Advice Helpline has been helping employees to get compensation for their injuries at work. Offering legal assistance on a no-win, no-fee basis, this company can be reached 24/7 on their freephone helpline – 0800 689 0500 – to discuss potential claims confidentially and with no obligation to proceed.
Date Published: January 3, 2014
Author: David Brown