Health and safety advice given in Tudor England

University of Oxford researchers have been analysing health and safety pamphlets from the Tudor period

A research professor at the University of Oxford has found that health and safety guides were popular in the Tudor period, when gruesome deaths by hay scythes and horse-drawn carts were not out of the ordinary.

According to Professor Steven Gunn, from the University of Oxford, the Tudor period was a dangerous era in which to be alive, and indeed to work. Statistics taken from multiple coroners’ reports from this era, show that over half of the fatal accidents recorded in Tudor times happened to people while they were working.

Workers in Tudor times had health and safety guides too

Tudor health and safety guides analysed by Oxford researchers

The coroners’ reports detail accidents which befell workers between the years 1551 and 1600. The reports list all fatal accidents from this period, but researchers from Oxford have been focusing upon those that happened in the workplace.

The incidents recorded include the death of three people in Lancashire while washing sheep in a river; and the brutal death of a farm labourer who was accidentally sliced by his colleague’s scythe at the end of a busy day on the fields.

The team of researchers found that drivers of horse-drawn carts in the Tudor period were the group most likely to become involved in a fatal accident; this was due to wheel-seizures, collisions, and overworked drivers.

Health and safety pamphlets, like Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry published in 1614, became popular due to the dangerous nature of the workplace for the common Tudor worker.

Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry advises farm labourers to work diagonally so as to avoid being caught by another’s scythe; advises cart drivers to carry a bag of snails to use a wheel-lubricants to prevent wheel seizures; and warns of the dangers involved in climbing trees.

Professor Steven Gunn, of Oxford’s Merton College, commented: “Reading about how people died in Tudor times, you might think that people must have been daft. Actually people did make an effort to work out the risks and minimise them.”

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