Compensating the Tubercular Miner: An Occupational Health Solution to a Public Health Problem

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Abstract

Western Australian goldmining produced a rich bullion of disease, an outcome underplayed by mining companies, only reluctantly acknowledged by governments and subsequently neglected by historians. Respiratory disease decimated the underground miners. Where miners' illness was recognised by authorities, the victim was commonly blamed. They were prey to the occupational dust disease silicosis which in turn predisposed them to tuberculosis: a highly infectious respiratory disease endemic in industrial societies, including Australia, in the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries. Western Australian goldminers disproportionately contracted tuberculosis. The failure of government to tackle tuberculosis as a public health problem on the goldfields or to relieve or compensate miners adequately for their illness is the subject of this article. It is an account of a failed welfare initiative. The 1926 Miners' Phthisis Act was designed to examine miners for tuberculosis and prohibit those showing signs of the disease from working underground.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)148-165
JournalStudies in Western Australian History
Volume25
Publication statusPublished - 2007

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