Post-print of: Webb, R 2009, 'Appreciable injury to health - confronting health and safety in Australia’s workplaces during the first half of the twentieth century', The International Journal of the Humanities, vol. 6, no. 10, pp. 87-96.
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A state’s management of workplace safety is one indicator of its integrity. This paper uses historical evidence to demonstrate the past and current resonance of this position. It examines workplace risk and abuse in Australia, and considers the impact of legislation targeting occupational health and safety, including laws effectively protecting vested interests rather than social justice at work. Such interests included capital rather than labour, and male workers rather than female. Historical scenarios suggest how a risk management approach to worker health and safety became embedded in corporate and political culture. Challenging this culture, twentieth century deaths from silicosis and from lead poisoning, and from employment-related asbestosis, illustrate the consequence of employer refusal to eliminate known dangerous materials and processes from the workplace. Drawing on labour and government manuscripts, this analysis identifies OHS risk and abuse, focusing on Australia for the first half of the twentieth century, and with reference to findings and legislation in the UK that informed parties negotiating OHS in Australia. The paper argues that acknowledgement of past abuses, and an understanding of failures to repair abuse, is essential if the state is to properly address current workplace safety crimes.