ABSTRACT

As highlighted in Chapter 1, although much has been written about the nationalised

coal industry from several perspectives, the occupational health strategies of this

important nationalised industry have been given sparse attention. Nationalisation of

the coal industry coincided with a shift in the nature of British politics, and occurred

at a time when many were hoping for the realisation of the more egalitarian order

promised in the Beveridge Report. Certainly, nationalisation of the coal industry was

something which the miners’ trade unions had been pushing for throughout the inter-

war period.1 The introduction of the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act of 1946, then,

was for many the fulfilment of a long held ambition in which miners were to have

a stake in the future of their industry. Come Vesting Day, the first of January 1947,

the patchwork pattern of private ownership which had characterised the British coal

industry for so long disappeared. Suddenly 700,000 workers (5% of the working

male population) found themselves working in a nationalised industry for which

the Secretary of State had the power to appoint a Chairman and a Board made up of

between 8 to 15 members. The principal obligations and priorities of the new NCB

were clearly laid out in the act which brought it into being. These included:

a. working and getting coal in Great Britain …;

b. securing the efficient development of the coal-mining industry; and

c. making supplies of coal available, of such qualities and sizes, in such quantities and

at such prices, as may seem to them best calculated to further the public interest in all

respects …2

Some fifty years later, when the post-war coal industry was under trial in the High

Court for exposing workers to dangerous levels of coal dust, it was suggested that

the NCB’s prioritising of production over health and safety was clearly apparent at

its initiation, because the Board’s duties regarding workers’ health did not appear

until Section 1 (4) of the Act:

The policy of the NCB shall be directed to securing, consistently with the proper discharge

of their duties under subsection (1) of this section: (a) the safety, health and welfare of

persons in their employment …3

We will come back to the legal judgment in a later section. However, it could be

argued that it would have been unrealistic to expect a corporation in this period (even

one as idealistically motivated as the nascent NCB) to prioritise health and safety

over production.