Germs at work: establishing tuberculosis as an occupational disease in Britain, c1900-1951

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18 Citations (Scopus)


In 1951, tuberculosis was added to the statutory list of prescribed occupational diseases in the UK, giving some workers the right to financial compensation. This article explores the long campaign to define TB as an illness linked to employment, investigating an area neglected in the historiography, whilst contributing to our understanding of the role of trade unions in relation to public health. The evidence examined here suggests a complex and changing picture in which a broadly proactive and dynamic union policy implicated the workplace in the TB epidemic and pressed for preventative measures and compensation. Whilst limited in effectiveness before 1939, this campaign was successful in the 1940s as the medical evidence became clearer, debate narrowed to focus on health workers, the capacity of the trade union movement to influence policy making developed and the Trades Union Congress learnt to strategically marshal medical evidence and engage more effectively with the epidemiology.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)812-829
Number of pages18
JournalSocial History of Medicine
Issue number4
Early online date14 Jun 2012
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2012


  • medical history
  • tuberculosis
  • occupational disease
  • public health
  • compensation
  • historiography


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