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OSHA? Don't need 'em.
October 23, 2013 10:56 PM   Subscribe

This 1935 film of the London Midland & Scottish Railways' Crewe Works construction of a 4-6-2 Pacific-type steam locomotive [SLYT] is a fascinating study of heavy industry in prewar Britain. And not a hard hat in sight!
posted by pjern (36 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
I like the fact that in the foundry the workers wore flat caps and the supervisor wore a bowler. Seems jolly proper governor.
posted by samworm at 11:29 PM on October 23, 2013


So. Many. Jobs.
posted by Jon_Evil at 11:29 PM on October 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


I was struck by the similarities between this and the Tesla factory video, noticing especially the delivery of rolled steel in the first and the delivery of rolled aluminum in the second -- and then the first referred to the recent discovery of the heat-resistance of alumin(i)um foil!
posted by dhartung at 11:30 PM on October 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wonderful documentary.

"No OSHA or hard hats here, just great skill, determination and hard, very hard work."

Not a part of said documentary.
posted by hat_eater at 11:52 PM on October 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Forget hard hats, no eye protection in sight!
posted by redyaky at 12:00 AM on October 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yeah, that scene where they're milling and steel flakes are flying everywhere and there's not even a token attempt at eye protection. Yeesh. Still, though, this is some pretty amazing work. I wish we had trains here in America.
posted by cthuljew at 12:08 AM on October 24, 2013


I wish we had trains here in America.

America used to manufacture locomotives by the thousands. You know. Before OSHA.

"At the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia they produced thirty-six to forty engines a week, say six a day.

"Suppose I gave the specifications for a locomotive I wanted built, what is the quickest time in which you could supply it?"

"Eight clear days," came the answer like a shot.

The manager saw something in my eye, for he added quickly: "Oh but I tell you we've done it. It was a test case, but it was done. When? On Saturday, June 22nd 1886, Mr. Robert B. Coleman ordered an American type passenger locomotive and tender, and we agreed it should be ready for service on his railroad in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania on July 4th. The boiler material was ordered by telegraph, and we got it on Tuesday, the 25th. On Monday, July 1st, the machinery, frame, wheels, and so forth were attached. The tender was completed and the locomotive tried under steam on Tuesday, July 2nd. That was the record construction of a complete locomotive from raw material, and the time was eight days. That shows what we can do when we are pressed.


Fraser, John Foster, America at Work, 1908, pp. 40-41
posted by three blind mice at 12:16 AM on October 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


I feel like Mike Rowe would approve.
posted by adamt at 12:17 AM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I feel like OSHA wouldn't approve.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:20 AM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


To put this into perspective: here is what a quick google found. Before 1976, fatal accident rates for the general workforce were available only for census years - and the earliest census year I could quickly find information on was in 1961, when a fatal accident rate (per 100,000 worker-years) was 5, compared to 0.9 in 1996-2005.

This makes for sobering reading however, fatal accidents in mining in 1935-38. We can be all 'oh it's elf and safety guverner stopping us from lifting that piece of paper', but the endless death lists make for some sobering reading. As do accounts of accidents like this:
While in Hospital [for severe burns], Thornley told his story:-
“The coal cutter was at work at the face just after nine o’clock, three quarters of an hour before the shift was due to finish. I them heard a sudden rumble over the coal face. It did not seem to be very distant, in fact, it was quite near. As soon as the weight had got settled there was a flash and I saw nothing but fire and smoke and swirling clouds of dust. we were flung in all directions and did not know which way to turn. we did not at first realise what had happened. could not seen any of my palls because for the thickness of the air. I put my arms up to try and gasp for breath, and my face felt just as it had been skinned. I struggled along towards the gate end but I had not got very far when there came another explosion, this time not so terrific but the air seemed to reverse and there were more clouds of swirling dust. After that I remember nothing more until they put me in a tub to take me to the bottom of the shaft.”

Hard hats save heads.
posted by Augenblick at 12:25 AM on October 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


Thanks Augenblick, I was just looking for some data like that.
posted by adamt at 12:27 AM on October 24, 2013


That was the record construction of a complete locomotive from raw material, and the time was eight days. That shows what we can do when we are pressed.

The current record is under 10 hours to build one of these.

The engine in the video was to be involved in a fatal derailment in 1951 (not the fault of anyone depicted) but ultimately would last 27 years before coming home to Crewe to be cut up for scrap.
posted by doiheartwentyone at 12:43 AM on October 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


I knew I could count on dedicated British anaoraks to have recorded her final fate. Cut up in 1962. Seems like such an ignoble end, but I'm sure she was recycled.
posted by adamt at 12:46 AM on October 24, 2013


1961, when a fatal accident rate (per 100,000 worker-years) was 5, compared to 0.9 in 1996-2005.

Working in a factory has always been safer than working on a farm. Fruit farms have the highest work injury rate among various specified agricultural operations (233 injuries per million hours of exposure). The 1989 rate for all farms is 20.0 compared with 4.2 for all industry.
posted by three blind mice at 1:37 AM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Note the comment to add "&yt:stretch=4:3" to the URL to fix the aspect ratio.
posted by epo at 1:42 AM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I feel like OSHA wouldn't approve.

I rather doubt that OSHA would have anything to say one way or another about a factory in Crewe.
posted by atrazine at 2:02 AM on October 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Nothing glamorizes work like a few lost limbs and fatal accidents.

Lovely bit of machinery, but let's not carried away. Most of those men were probably paid by piecework, which sounds properly capitalist but is usually a lousy way to make a living.
posted by maxwelton at 2:17 AM on October 24, 2013


Working in a factory has always been safer than working on a farm.

A. "Safer" judgement not including outcomes like brown lung, heavy-metal poisoning, asbestosis, and repetitive-stress injuries.

B. If OSHA had the ability and mandate to regulate practices on farms, I have no doubt that the farm accident rate would decline.

Society long ago decided that maximum production output was not worth commonplace maiming of the workforce. Some people still resist the idea.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:18 AM on October 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


You know what was built with Hard Hats and OSHA regs? The Space Shuttle. Hard hats win.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:21 AM on October 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


> America used to manufacture locomotives by the thousands. You know. Before OSHA.

OSHA was ratified in 1970. The hostile takeover of passenger rail by U.S. auto companies began in 1936. So you're right on the money, aside from being off by over thirty years and implying the cause was protecting human lives rather than corporate-scale free-market capitalism.

One of the ironic consequences of the actual version of events, though, is that until 2005 General Motors was one of the larger locomotive manufacturers in the world.
posted by ardgedee at 4:22 AM on October 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


How It's Made, 1935 edition.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 4:30 AM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


The lack of safety equipment seems typical but the workers portrayed also seem remarkably clean and freshly scrubbed. Note especially the snow white head gear of the men operating the drop forge and in some scenes the contrast between clean hands and faces and grubby, grubby work clothes. Some of these men look old but were probably in their 40s.

Sadly heavy industry is all but defunct in Britain now and many of the places where it once thrived are now run-down desperate places.
posted by epo at 4:35 AM on October 24, 2013


I'm a supporter of Crewe Alexandra, the local football team, nickname "The Railwaymen", and there was a fair controversy a few years back when the club redesigned the shirt badge of a lion rampant to remove the locomotive wheel it had formerly held, all testament to what the town was famous for (grew up in a village a bit south so seemed like my farming job dad was the only one at school who didn't work for British Rail in some capacity). Links with the railways also immortalised in song (which you hear on the terraces occasionally still).
posted by Abiezer at 4:38 AM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I enjoyed this immensely but I couldn't help but think of what was going on in Germany at the same time this film was made.
posted by dukes909 at 4:50 AM on October 24, 2013


my granddad was one of those guys. not specifically the ones in that movie, but still. the stumps where he was missing fingers were endlessly amazing to me when I was small.

in general I like OHS.
posted by russm at 4:51 AM on October 24, 2013


I wish we had trains here in America.

It's worth pointing out that, while the US does not have the lovely passenger rail that much of the rest of the world has, we ship more by rail than most of those places, which is why Europe is clogged with megatrucks and we're not. Freight rail in the US is a success story on lots of levels, and we're building plenty of locomotives.

I've loved my many sleeper car trips on the Capitol Limited to Chicago and the magical writing chair at my brother's apartment, and wish the general public would ask more of Amtrak and take an interest in squelching our insidious rail-stranglers in government, but we're really not short on rail in the US—it's just tucked under the surface, doing heavy work far, far more efficiently than the fleets of diesel tractors used elsewhere.

One of the reasons I love the ruinous cabin I own in West Virginia, despite the hand-sized spiders, vermin, snakes, leaking roof, freezing winters, and showerless mornings, is that one of the busiest rail lines in the country literally runs through my front yard, just past the driveway. I run down to wave at the Capitol Limited on its two daily passages, but I sit and enjoy my lunch on the grassy hillside while the mile-long freights trundle through, mass and wheels singing a bass-heavy song of a country getting on with things. At night, all night, they rumble through, not as a disturbance, but as a subsonic heartbeat to the world. The horns call from far, far in the distance, the voice carries through the valley like the plaintive note of remote bagpipes, and comes the thunder.

Of course, it's hard to be too romantic about pre-OSHA days, our fading steampunk fad notwithstanding, particularly in the execrable British Empire, which, it should be pointed out, still had workers housed in workhouses in virtual slavery, which is hard to view with informed nostalgia, despite our love of the trope that those glory days of big industrial empires were somehow a golden time.
posted by sonascope at 5:29 AM on October 24, 2013 [9 favorites]


rail lovers never die, they just loose track
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 7:01 AM on October 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


The lack of safety equipment seems typical but the workers portrayed also seem remarkably clean and freshly scrubbed.

"Oy! You lot! Bosses have camera crews coming in next week. Baths and clean clothes every day or you're off the line! And make sure One-Eye there works out of the way in the scrap lot for the duration. Now get back to work!"
posted by Thorzdad at 7:48 AM on October 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


> we ship more by rail

"Coal is the most important single commodity carried by rail. In 2002, it accounted for 44 percent of tonnage and 21 percent of revenue for Class I railroads. The vast majority of coal in the United States is used to generate electricity at coal-fired power plants. Coal accounts for half of all U.S. electricity generation" [that might be down to ~45% now]
posted by morganw at 8:58 AM on October 24, 2013


The lack of safety equipment seems typical but the workers portrayed also seem remarkably clean and freshly scrubbed. Note especially the snow white head gear of the men operating the drop forge and in some scenes the contrast between clean hands and faces and grubby, grubby work clothes.

Given the logistics of filming in that era it's unlikely that any of the clips of various processes were taken during a normal production day.

It also wouldn't surprise me to find out that some workers were omitted from scenes due to disfigurement.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:22 AM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Come to think of it as far as I know the filmstock of that era was immensely flammable. I wonder how they worked around that.

We need a making of the making of...
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:52 AM on October 24, 2013


A. "Safer" judgement not including outcomes like brown lung, heavy-metal poisoning, asbestosis, and repetitive-stress injuries.

There are plenty of marvellous chemicals to poison you on a farm, too. My grandpa's lungs were coated with them. And fruit pickers certainly know the meaning of repetitive stress. Factories create a lot of injuries in a small space, because there are so many workers in one place, but this also makes it relatively easy to put safety measures in place.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 10:55 AM on October 24, 2013


Some history on the hard hat and other work safety innovations: Safety Nets, Hard-Boiled Hard Hats & The Halfway to Hell Club: Safety Innovations in the Golden Gate Bridge Construction (self-link)
posted by madamjujujive at 8:34 PM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


If that's a self link then do please explain the relative size of those hats, will you? :-)
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:11 PM on October 24, 2013


OK - from the source of the photo:
The full size hard hat on the left measures 12 3/4 in. x 8 1/2 in. x 6 1/4 in. high and has a paper label identifying it as a genuine Bullard Hard Boiled Hat manufactured by the E. D. Bullard Company of San Francisco... The miniature hat on the right is a Bullard Hard Boiled salesman sample hat also marked with the Hard Boiled trademark label.

It was more fun to think that the worker head sizes ranged greatly in size. Or that some old-time workers were hipsters who wore teeny-tiny hats ironically.
posted by madamjujujive at 5:00 AM on October 25, 2013


I was actually hoping for helper monkeys. :-)

Thanks for the explanation though.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:09 PM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


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