Post-print of: Webb, R 2005, 'Dusting the lungs: environmental health and safety in sewers, printeries and mines', Seeing Red: Forum of social, political and cultural dissent, vol. 4.
Conventionally there are three parties to the labour relationship – unions/workers, employers, and government. Underlying these there’s a fourth - the working environment. In the workplace, occupational health and safety governs job security, health, and life. This isn’t a new link. Historically, occupation-related diseases have been known, documented, and ignored by employers.i Profit has always sent ohs to the tip. The international labour movement has fought – and often lost - on issues as varied as sugar workers against weils disease in cane fields, meat-workers against contact with infected meat, agricultural workers and hairdressers against work-related dermatitis and poisoning, shearers against scabby sheep, match-workers against ‘phossy jaw’ in the early 20th century, manufacturing workers against lack of protective clothing and unshielded machinery, and battery workers against lead poisoning. The 8 hour day movement spearheaded shorter hours campaigns targeting exposure to life-threatening workplaces. Along with the miners’, printers’ and smelter workers’ struggles described below, these have all been fights between workers and employers over environmental and physical dangers at work.