Abstract: Reinvention, Renewal, or Repetition? The Great Western Railway and Occupational Safety on Britain's Railways, c.1900-1920

Mike Esbester


This paper examines the dramatic changes in occupational safety education on Britain's railways between approximately 1900 and 1920. Facing increasing union pressure and the threat of immanent state intervention, the Great Western Railway (GWR) introduced a new safety campaign in August 1913: the "Safety First" movement. This paper will assess the extent to whichthis "new" campaign reinvented occupational safety education in Britain. I argue that new techniques of communicating safety messages were combined with the relatively traditional content of these messages: rather than a simple repetition of previous attempts, or an absolute reinvention of safety, the campaign was a renewal of existing conceptions of occupational safety education. This paper examines both the methods of conveying safety messages and the messages themselves. I argue that occupational safety was partly determined by the power relationships between union, state and company. This social construction of "safety" and the elision of reinvention and repetition were therefore fundamental to the GWR's renewal of safety education.

BEH On-Line Paper