The First-Ever Health And Safety Guidebook

Industry News By Sarah

The field of health and safety is relatively new, and given the constant evolution of guidance, education and discourse surrounding the field, adaptable to the needs of workers and their environments.

Whilst there were laws protecting workers in specific industries, it took until the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to set up the wider infrastructure surrounding occupational health and establish that every industry needed to be mindful of the welfare of their employees.

The benefits of improved legal protections and improved education of both employers and employees alike are self-evident; fatal injuries dropped by 73 per cent between the enactment of the law and 2007 when it was reviewed in the House of Lords.

The development of this legislation was iterative, its initial seeds were found in the early 19th-century Factory Acts starting in 1802. 

However, a century before this, an Italian doctor published the first work on occupational health and safety, one that was centuries ahead of its time and astonishingly prescient.

The Diseases Of Workers 

Born in Carpi in the Northern Italian region of Moderna in 1633, Bernardino Ramazzini was fascinated by how certain diseases were found more commonly in certain parts of the population and within certain professions.

Whilst studying and later appointed chair of the theory of medicine at the University of Moderna, he played an active role in meeting with different workers, discussing their health issues and concerns and observing how they performed their jobs.

This ultimately led to the publication of De Morbis Artificum Diatriba (The Diseases Of Workers), an outline of the potential risks and hazards involved in each of these professions.

Prior to this, medicine was seen as somewhat reactive and focused on the mechanics of diseases, rather than their causes and origins.

He was not the only Renaissance-era doctor to believe in the power of preventative medicine, but he took it several steps further than his contemporaries by focusing on not only lifestyle but occupation as well. 

Whilst he is unlikely to have coined the term “prevention is better than cure”, he was one of the first to popularise it

He outlined how different jobs increase the risk of specific types of disorders in ways that go beyond exposure to specific pathogens or chemicals.

Much of the book focuses on musculoskeletal disorders that come from repetitive actions, forming the basics of what would become the study of ergonomics.

As well as this, he was focused on pollution caused by working and living environments over a century before this became a widely explored field of study during the Industrial Revolution.

There were also explorations on the connection between psychological health and physical health, something that has in recent decades become a particular point of discussion in health and safety with the exploration of stress hazards and burnout.

In doing so, the book explored the potential risk factors of both manual labour and office-based jobs, with many risk prevention suggestions that in principle are used today, albeit with much more precise definitions.

It was first published in 1700, with a second edition in 1713 before his death the following year at the age of 81.

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