As much as the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century was known for driving the speed and direction of how commerce was carried out globally, it was also known as an exploiter of mass labour working in dangerous and inhumane conditions.
Long hours and low wages
As the steam engine opened the way for industrial machinery that mass produced goods, there was a subsequent need for mass, unskilled labour – often filled by women and children who were paid half of what men would be earning. They worked long hours in unregulated environments where the newly invested machinery and technology would run constantly, usually without any safety coverings protecting workers from the internal mechanisms.
As much of the machinery was steam powered, the factories would have to keep fires going 24 hours a day, filling them with smoke, affecting the lungs and health of those working in the dark and dingy machine rooms.
The long hours, low wages and child labour led to the introduction of labour unions that started to work on behalf of the workers, giving them louder voices and more rights.
Looking back on history it is interesting to see how so much has changed and evolved in such a relative short amount of time – at least in the Western world.
In the 21st century developed nations, health and safety is the driving force of every single workplace, whether in a factory, sat in an office, or working out on site, health and safety is incorporated into every aspect of someone’s working day to provide them with the most amount of protection possible.
Health and safety as standard
Health and safety in the workplace has become big business, with literally thousands of courses online covering every aspect of industry specific health and safety management throughout every ‘layer’ of an organisation. Rules and regulations have become the norm when setting up any business, even if you are just half a dozen people in a small office. As a boss you are liable for the safety of your employees while they are working in your time.
Protocols and policies
Health and safety is now written into both company law and, as a result, company policies. One way of ensuring that all protocols are met is to ensure that all technology and machinery also complies with stringent safety measures, whether it is ensuring that the care and maintenance of company vehicles is kept up to date, or that lone worker devices are fitted with ATEX cells, or that developers working on computer screens have access to ergonomically designed standing desks.
Encouraging compliance worldwide
You only need to look at the continuing poor working conditions of factories in the developing world, such as Bangladesh and Vietnam to know that poor working conditions persist despite the incredible technological advances that we experience everyday in developed nations.
In Bangladesh, over 400 workers have died from machinery accidents in factories, where the majority of workers are women receiving the lowest wages with no rights at all. One of the worst industrial accidents happened on 24th April 2013 when an eight storey building containing a number of garment factories collapsed, killing over 1000 people, and injuring 2500. Only a day earlier the building was evacuated due to cracks appearing in the building, however, the workers were told to return and continue working.
The Western world has made great strides in terms of matching technology with the health and safety of its workforce. Those same values must now be imposed on factories across developing nations.