August 12, 2009 The Pump Handle 3Comment

I’m reading a wonderful collection of public health success stories, in the collection assembled by John W. Ward and Christian Warren entitled “Silent Victories: The History and Practice of Public Health in 20th Century America”  (Oxford, 2007.)  Our colleagues Tony Robbins and Phil Landrigan wrote a chapter on occupational disease and injury prevention, and in it, introduce me to Sir Thomas Legge. 

He was the UK’s first medical Inspector of Factories (appointed in 1897) and he capitalized on his title and training to expose occupational hazards, propose interventions and demonstrate their effectiveness at reducing harm.  Robbins and Landrigan offer one little gem from Legge that is too good to keep to myself.  Legge proposed several axioms to reduce workers’ risk of lead poisoning, but with just a little tweaking, they seem quite appropriate for other workplace hazards:

  • Unless and until the employer has done everything — and everything means a good deal—the workman can do next to nothing to protect himself, although he is naturally willing enough to do his share. 
  • If you can bring an influence to bear external to the workman (i.e., one over which he can exercise no control) you will be successful; and if you cannot or do not, you will never be wholly successful.
  • All workmen should be told something of the danger of the material with which they come into contact and not be left to find it out for themselves – sometimes at the cost of their lives.

Sounds like: ALARA, engineering controls, and warning labels, hazard communication and worker-centered training.

3 thoughts on “Learning OHS from Sir Thomas Legge

  1. Celeste… Thanks for bringing attention to these classics. Here is another that I have tried to keep in mind over the years – this one by Alphonse Chapanis, one of the early leaders in the modern field of ergonomics and human factors engineering:

    “Everyone, and that includes you and me, is at some time careless, complacent, overconfident, and stubborn. At times each of us becomes distracted, inattentive, bored and fatigued. We occasionally take chances. We misunderstand, we misinterpret and we misread. As a result of these and still other completely human characteristics, we sometimes do not do things or use things in ways that are expected of us.

    Because we are human and because all these traits are fundamental and built into each of us, the equipment, machines and systems that we construct for our use have to be made to accommodate us the way we are, and not vice versa.”

  2. Mike,
    GREAT passage! and one to impart when icompanies, colleagues or investigators resort to blaming a worker for his/her injury or death. Workers are not robots and industrial practices shouldn’t treat them as if they are.

    Thanks for sharing this!

  3. Legge resigned over inaction on the white lead standard. Some contrast with the Bush lackeys who denied regulatory protection and abandoned enforcement because it fitted with their paymaster’s deregulatory, business-fawning, murderous disregard for working life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.