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Poisoned by the fluff: compensation and litigation for byssinosis in the Lancashire cotton industry

Bowden, Sue and Tweedale, Geoffrey (2002) Poisoned by the fluff: compensation and litigation for byssinosis in the Lancashire cotton industry. Journal of law and society, 29 (4). pp. 560-579. ISSN 1467-6478

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Abstract

The literature on the history of industrial diseases is scanty, especially for byssinosis – a chronic respiratory illness caused by exposure to cotton dust that was prevalent in Lancashire cotton mills from the early nineteenth century. This article uses government, legal, medical, and trade union records to explore the development of state compensation for byssinosis. This began in 1941, but not until the early 1970s did compensation extend to all affected workers. Even then, dissatisfaction with state benefits for byssinosis ensured a steady stream of common law actions after 1975. Most of these were settled, highlighting the failure of government and industry to control dust and safeguard workers' health. Government aversion to increasing costs in a declining industry was a major factor in the development of an inequitable compensation system, which shifted many of the costs of industrial disease onto cotton workers.

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