I’m reading a wonderful collection of public health success stories, in the collection assembled by John W. Ward and Christian Warren entitled “Silent Victories: The History and Practice of Public Health in 20th Century America”  (Oxford, 2007.)  Our colleagues Tony Robbins and Phil Landrigan wrote a chapter on occupational disease and injury prevention, and in it, introduce me to Sir Thomas Legge

He was the UK’s first medical Inspector of Factories (appointed in 1897) and he capitalized on his title and training to expose occupational hazards, propose interventions and demonstrate their effectiveness at reducing harm.  Robbins and Landrigan offer one little gem from Legge that is too good to keep to myself.  Legge proposed several axioms to reduce workers’ risk of lead poisoning, but with just a little tweaking, they seem quite appropriate for other workplace hazards:

  • Unless and until the employer has done everything — and everything means a good deal—the workman can do next to nothing to protect himself, although he is naturally willing enough to do his share. 
  • If you can bring an influence to bear external to the workman (i.e., one over which he can exercise no control) you will be successful; and if you cannot or do not, you will never be wholly successful.
  • All workmen should be told something of the danger of the material with which they come into contact and not be left to find it out for themselves – sometimes at the cost of their lives.

Sounds like: ALARA, engineering controls, and warning labels, hazard communication and worker-centered training.