CBHC / RCAHMW > News > Cotton Mills and the Early Days of Safety and Health in Work
An early Aerofilms image (1950) of the site of the Mold Cotton Mill, later Alyn Tinplate Works, and acquired in 1950 by Synthite Ltd to produce formaldehyde. The site has a remarkable industrial history and there are mores aerial photos available on Coflein

Cotton Mills and the Early Days of Safety and Health in Work

The Alyn Works – known locally as just ‘Synthite’ – on the outskirts of Mold occupies the site of a cotton mill that was established in 1792 and was, sadly, destroyed by fire in 1866. Cotton mills are well known for their historical importance in the Industrial Revolution but their role in the history of health and safety legislation is not always appreciated.

In the eighteenth century the predominant approach to workplace safety was a fundamentally free-market one. It was widely believed that the cost of downtime and the cost of damage to assets arising from the lack of occupational safety provision would drive employers to provide a safe working environment for work to be carried out in. However, moving into the nineteenth century this belief had been eroded and following outbreaks of contagious diseases the government was forced to legislate for the first time to protect the health of employees. The ‘Health and Morals of Apprentices Act’ of 1802 limited the working hours of apprentices, outlined minimum standards for the provision of clothing for them and the requirements for their education. This act also laid down minimum standards for the working environment; all mills must be cleaned down with quicklime and water twice per year.

This act placed a responsibility on local magistrates to appoint individuals to undertake inspections of working premises. If appointed to the role, a local clergyman and a justice of the peace could visit at any time and impose fines for any non-compliance they observed. Two copies of the Act were required to be displayed in the factory.

Following this legislation, throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries many other Acts relating to Factories, Railways, Mining and Shipping developed the requirements for workplace safety, though these were often complex and different across industries. In 1974 the responsibilities that employers have for the safety of employees were made clear and universal with the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act. Every employer now has responsibility for the health, safety and wellbeing of its employees, and every employee has responsibility for their own safety and the safety of those who could be affected by their work.

Whilst much has changed in the nature of work from the time of Mold Cotton Mill to now, some requirements from the act of 1802 have stood the test of time; we are still required to display a Health and Safety at Work poster in our workplaces, and there are still specialists appointed – the Health and Safety Executive – whose role it is to visit and inspect workplaces to ensure they meet the required levels of safety.

Stephen Bailey-John, Operations Manager
Rheolwr Gweithrediadau

28/04/2023

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