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The working conditions in many cotton mills were notoriously bad, not to mention dangerous! Some mill owners, like Robert Owen at New Lanark provided better and safer conditions for their workers. Many others though were not interested in considering the health and welfare of their workers because it might cost them money and reduce their profits. There were many dangers that mill workers were exposed to on a daily basis.
There were no guards on the large machines in the mills, so many workers could get caught or trapped! Accidents were common because people were unfamiliar with the machines; they had to crawl under them and also because they worked such long hours. Sadly, some children were killed or crushed under them. Fencing machinery was not made compulsory until 1844.
“I’ve getten no head for numbers, but this I know, that by far th’greater part o’the accidents as comed in, happened in th’last two hours o’work, when folk getten tired and careless. The surgeon said it were all true.” Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell, 1848
“When I was twelve I started at 6am in the card room and I lost my finger. We used to fettle under when it was running. I was oiling the machine at ten past six in the morning when it happened." Unknown millworker
There was very little insurance in those days. Many children weren't insured until they reached the age of 16, so if they were badly injured and couldn't work, it meant they had to find other employment or fight for compensation. Some workers had to go to a court hearing to get some money as compensation for their accident and loss of wages, though many couldn't afford to do this.
Accidents were accepted as part of life in the mill. In 1833, the Government established the Factory Inspectorate to try to regulate conditions in the mills and reduce accidents. This wasn't very effective though because there weren't enough inspectors for all the factories and the inspectors weren't present all of the time.
Cotton mills were fire traps. The combination of their timber construction, the use of naked [uncovered] lights, highly flammable raw material [cotton] and the friction of constantly moving machinery was deadly. Three of the four mills in New Lanark, were burnt to the ground during its long spinning history.
|New Lanark World Heritage Site
South Lanarkshire, Scotland, ML11 9DB
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