Working today is usually quite safe. The government has made laws saying that employers have to look after the workforce and provide safety equipment and other things for them. At the start of the Industrial Revolution none of these laws existed and so working in a factory could prove to be very dangerous indeed. This section looks at some of the conditions faced by workers and offers a brief explanation of what was done to improve these conditions.
Industries such as the cotton trade were particularly hard for workers to endure long hours of labour. The nature of the work being done meant that the workplace had to be very hot, steam engines contributing further to the heat in this and other industries. Machinery was not always fenced off and workers would be exposed to the moving parts of the machines whilst they worked. Children were often employed to move between these dangerous machines as they were small enough to fit between tightly packed machinery. This led to them being placed in a great deal of danger and mortality (death rates) were quite high in factories. Added to the dangers of the workplace also consider the impact of the hours worked. It was quite common for workers to work 12 hours or more a day, in the hot and physically exhausting work places. Exhaustion naturally leads to the worker becoming sluggish (slow), which again makes the workplace more dangerous.
Not all factories were as bad as the scenario highlighted above. Robert Owen and Titus Salt for example were both regarded as good employers in this respect. They were amongst a group of people who were known as reformers.
These people wanted changes to the way that factories were run. They faced opposition from other mill owners who knew that reforms would cost them money and give the workers more rights. (They wanted to make as much profit as possible remember, that is the purpose of manufacturing in a capitalist country).
The reformers gradually managed to force changes to the way that workers were treated. Some of these reforms are listed below.
Legislation: Factory Acts
|Limited the hours worked by children to a maximum of 12 per day.
|Factory Act 1833
|Children under 9 banned from working in the textiles industry
and 10-13 year olds limited to a 48 hour week.
|Factory Act 1844
|Maximum of 12 hours work per day for Women.
|Factory Act 1847
|Maximum of 10 hours work per day for Women and children.
|Factory Act 1850
|Increased hours worked by Women and children to 10 and a
half hours a day, but not allowed to work before 6am or after 6pm.
|No worker allowed to work more than 56.5 hours per
Conditions varied from place to place and within different industries. Inventions led to improved output but did not always lead to improved conditions. Public Health legislation and working directives under the Liberal government of the early 20th century led to improvements.