Employers’ Liability and the Victorian Seaman

By Richard Gorski, published February 2009


Late 19th century measures to make employers in ‘hazardous industries’ liable for workplace casualties were not extended to the shipping industry until 1906. Progress on such measures, from the Employers’ Liability Act 1880 to the Workmen’s Compensation Act 1897, reflected differing approaches of prevention and compensation and were the two principal pieces of legislation relating to workplace safety and compensation for death and injury. Despite earlier Plimsoll agitation, shipowners argued that shipping and seamen were ‘different’ and that voluntary arrangements sufficed, so that neither included seamen in their provisions despite the very high rates of death and injury in the maritime industry. The debate continued, with statistics showing accident rates in merchant shipping to be four times those in coal mining, against a background of more organised labour and rapidly mobilising capital interests. The remarkable delay in reform is explained by some lack of focus amongst campaigners, divided ministerial responsibility for the issue and the power of the shipowners’ lobby. Seamen were eventually covered by legislation introduced the Liberal Government in 1906.

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Filed under: Other (Nineteenth C) | Health at Sea | Other (location)
Subjects include: Manpower & Life at Sea | Merchant Marines

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