I.C.I. Safety Handbook 1929

February 23, 2018 no comments

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “Health and Safety”?  Red tape, conker goggles and lethal hanging baskets? Or hard won legislation that keeps people safe at work?  Whatever your opinion may be, it might surprise you that encouraging workers to avoid falling off things, losing limbs or slipping discs is not a recent phenomenon.  As our fully risk assessed Digital Heritage Volunteers discovered, I.C.I took health and safety seriously way back in 1929.



As one of the largest manufacturing companies in Britain, the chemical giant had good reason to try to keep its vast Billingham workforce safe and healthy. But amongst the sober advice contained in the handbook one or two oddities stood out. Firstly, it seems there was a significant population of frustrated gymnasts employed in heavy industry in the twenties:

The pivot turn attempt didn’t end well


The topic of acrobatics and gymnastic feats by the working classes during the inter war period is surely one that is ripe for further research.

Away from forward rolls and handstands on top of the rigging it was good to see that manual handling was a priority in 1929. However, the fine line between “right and safe” versus “wrong and dangerous” was a little blurred by modern standards:

Spot the difference


I.C.I. didn’t want you just to stay healthy at work. The handbook includes some helpful, if rather unnerving, advice to workers for general health and fitness:

All very reasonable. Until:


Well, indeed.

Hopefully not as a remedy for 5.


Even mental health was touched upon.  Kind of:

C.B.T. 1920s style.


And with servants like these it’s probably best to pour your own evening brandy:



While the message of health and safety is indeed very serious and valuable, our last picture does make one wonder how long they left this poor bloke dangling while the photographer “adjusted the focus”:

“I’m volunteering for the gas masks picture next time”


Thanks again to our volunteers for bringing this slice of 1920s industrial life to light. The complete handbook will be available when we’ve ironed out a few cyber gremlins on the site. Watch this space. And who knows, it could even save your life one day:




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