[The Annual Report, which was published on July 20th 1932, was the subject of considerable notice in the Press.]

100 Years of Factory Law

A century of factory legislation is commemorated in the article by SIR MALCOLM DELEVINGNE, which appears on this page, and in the annual report of the CHIEF INSPECTOR of FACTORIES, from which some extracts are also published to-day. The object of factory legislation has been, from first to last, to secure wholesome working conditions and so to promote the safety, health, and welfare of the industrial population. In aiming at these things directly, factory legislation has, in fact, accomplished much more and has added immeasurably to the happiness and brightness of individual and social existence. Legislation has always excited the apprehension of masters in industry, but there has never been wanting a sufficient number of humane and enlightened employers to welcome beneficent measures enacted by Parliament and to turn them to good account both for their workpeople and for industrial progress. Looking back over a hundred years it is not difficult to trace the advantages to industry of legislation of which the primary intention was to rescue human beings from the physical and moral impairment which for long appeared to be the doom that machinery was bringing upon a manufacturing generation. The legislation of a hundred years ago was a means of controlling new productive forces which, without restraint, were stunting and degrading the new class of mechanical workers. Indeed, the factory legislation of the middle period of the last century supplies some of the redeeming features in a grim story of exploitation that was insensitive to, or – because of absorption in the mechanical and commercial aspects of production – unmindful of vital needs of the working people. Parliament took measures to protect first children and then women from excessive hours of work. Later came additional provisions for safety and health. The latest development has been in welfare. The factory inspectors descended on industry as reformers and healers of the harsh and inhuman conditions which marred the early story of the industrial epoch. With the authority of Parliament they gave effect to the nation’s kindlier sentiments and generous feelings. There has been a vast change since those early days. The Chief Inspector records the willing compliance, help and friendliness of those directly concerned with industry. It has come about that the principal functions of the factory inspector to-day “are instruction on matters within the law and advice on matters outside the law, rather than compulsion”.

The code of factory law is wide, but those who administer it have even wider scope of service. The inspectors are rightly recognised as technical advisers on matters of safety, and, besides being available as consultants, they are active in encouraging voluntary enterprise in safety by securing systematic arrangements in factories for investigating and preventing accidents. Occupational diseases have come more and more within the range of legal preventive measures. New manufacturing processes give rise to new diseases against which, as also against the old, a ceaseless campaign is fought. In this department of work the Home Office has the help of the Industrial Health Research Board of the Medical Research Council. As investigations have proceeded it has been realised, as DR. BRIDGE points out in the article he contributes to the official survey, that conditions special to the occupation were not the only cause of industrial disease, but that other factors – fatigue, undernourishment, and the like, met with both inside and outside the time of employment – were as important in the causation of illness as those due to the materials handled. That discovery became the starting point of a new advance in welfare work. Nevertheless industry exacts each year a heavy toll of accidents and illness. The CHIEF INSPECTOR, reading the accident mortality figures with an expert eye, is satisfied that the death rate has fallen, and that cases of poisoning notifiable by medical practitioners are far less numerous than they were an industrial generation ago, notwithstanding that more diseases are notifiable. These are welcome signs that the battle against accident and disease is gaining ground surely if slowly. Great Britain can take legitimate pride in its factory legislation, its administration and its general observance. But the factory Acts urgently need consolidation. Thirty-two years have elapsed since the last consolidation Act was passed. Since then supplementary Acts and a multitude of Orders and statutory regulations have, not altogether satisfactorily, brought requirements up to date. Piecemeal measures of this kind, however, leave gaps and create anomalies which only a comprehensive piece of legislation can remove. The passing of such an Act would be a heavy Parliamentary task, and the longer it is delayed the more toilsome it must be. Little public honour will accrue to the Minister or the Government undertaking it, but it will be a work of solid merit and enduring benefit.

The Times, July 1932