University of Worcester Worcester Research and Publications

The Contribution of the Women’s Factory Inspectorate (1893-1921) to improvements in women’s occupational health and safety

Spurgeon, Anne (2012) The Contribution of the Women’s Factory Inspectorate (1893-1921) to improvements in women’s occupational health and safety. Masters thesis, University of Worcester.

A Spurgeon MPhil thesis.pdf - Submitted Version

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The first women factory inspectors were appointed in 1893. Until 1921 they operated as a separate section of the Factory Inspectorate with special responsibility for inspecting the working conditions of women. This thesis has examined the work of the women inspectors between 1893 and 1921 and has sought to evaluate how far they were able to effect improvements in women’s working conditions. The inspectors’ work has been explored through a series of four illustrative case studies selected to cover occupational health and safety issues which were of particular importance to women workers during the period. These were lead poisoning in white lead works, accidents and injuries in laundries, ventilation in small workshops and industrial health and safety during the First World War. The period of study was marked by important changes in the functioning of the Factory Department, occurring in response to increasing state intervention in the conduct of industry and a growing awareness of medical, scientific and technical developments which began to inform policy and practice. The work of the women inspectors has been examined within this context showing how the approaches they adopted were highly reflective of these new developments. Contrary to existing historiography, which considers that the women inspectors were operationally ineffective and that their appointment was largely symbolic, it is argued that they achieved some notable successes in terms of reducing the risks to women workers. Despite their small numbers, they were able to harness new knowledge to investigate problems and identify solutions and, in the process, were able to contribute to policy development and legislative change. Their work before the First World War was indicative of a growing professionalism and expertise. During the war, however, their development was interrupted when their resources were diverted away from health and safety and towards the administration of a large industrial welfare system. This system was established by the government in response to public fears that the recruitment of large numbers of young women into factory work might have a morally destabilising effect on the nation. The professional progress of the women inspectors was thus largely curtailed during this period. Their special remit to investigate the health and safety problems of women workers was resumed only briefly after the war and their section was amalgamated with the men’s inspectorate in 1921.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
Additional Information:

A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the University’s requirements for the degree of
Master of Philosophy. A print version of this thesis is held on Level 4 at the Hive.

Uncontrolled Discrete Keywords: women factory inspectors, working conditions, occupational health, safety issues, women workers
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Divisions: College of Arts, Humanities and Education > School of Humanities
Depositing User: Janet Davidson
Date Deposited: 10 Sep 2013 09:58
Last Modified: 17 Jun 2020 16:59

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