Labour History

Women and Occupational Health and Safety: From Narratives of Danger to Invisibility

Labour History (1997), 73, (1), 30–52.

Abstract

The discourse which was to become occupational health and safety was developing at the height of the two protection phases in relation to the labour of Australian women workers, in the 1890s and the 1920s. Narratives of danger about sweated outworkers and reproductive politics surrounding the bodies of working girls, narrowly defined the diversity of women who were permitted to work. Protection based on the powerful masculine binary of protector/protected legitimated the exposure of men to danger at work. The history of protection in Britain and Europe, and the first ten years of the inspectorate of South Australia are examined to show how protection made women’s right to work more ambiguous than it might have been. It is argued that protection is part of the story of how the inspectorates in Britain and Australia operated to conventionalise factory crime and set in place the discursive framework of occupational health and safety for the rest of the century. This includes blaming the victim rather than removing hazards, and the entry of scientists and science-based medicine. Women workers were trying to broaden the definitions of work beyond the full-time male worker. Permeable boundaries between paid work and family work for women were reasons for exclusion from work and regulation that was developing at that time. A focus on women at the time who could not conform to the male breadwinner ideal, and solo mothers now, is used to emphasise the importance of the recognition of the interrelation of women’s paid and family work to any meaningful discourse of occupational health and safety, and inclusive regulations.

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Details

Author details

Williams, Claire

Table of Contents

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