History Article on Early 20th Century Black Lung: “‘Buying brains and experts’: British Coal Owners, Regulatory Capture and Miners’ Health, 1918 – 1946”

Cover of "Labor History" Journal

The peer-reviewed academic journal Labor History has published an article about the history of black lung in the UK from the period of 1918 to 1946.  In specific, the article is about how the owners of the coal industry used scientific experts to fight their responsibility for compensating sick miners (sound familiar?).  The article is written by Andrew Perchard of Coventry University and Keith Gildart of the University of Wolverhampton.

The abstract reads:

This article examines British coal owners’ use of medical and scientific knowledge of occupational lung diseases in the mining industry to resist regulatory changes between 1918 and 1946. It explores the strategies deployed by coal owners in response to scientific and lay debates over the hazard to workers’ health presented by dust, and legislation to compensate miners for pneumoconiosis and silicosis contracted in the nation’s collieries. In particular, it investigates coal owner deployment of the views of notable scientists, especially the eminent physiologist John Scott Haldane (1860–1936), who insisted on the harmlessness of coal dust, in order to avoid costly compensation payments, as well as capital investment in ameliorative measures to reduce miners’ exposure to such hazards. In so doing, the article provides new insights by illustrating how coal owners influenced mining education programmes, deploying the arguments of Haldane and others, with direct implications for health and safety in British mines. This contributed to the mounting public health disaster wrought by coal dust on Britain’s mining communities. This process is viewed as part of the broader political activities of the coal owners – and their industry body, the Mining Association of Great Britain – in its attempts to influence the regulatory process in a period of dramatic change in the political economy of coal.

The article is behind a pay-wall but looks compelling.  This period is important from an American perspective because the early 20th Century British research was very important in spreading awareness of the risks of coal-mine dust in America during the mid-20th Century.  The American coal industry successfully limited research and publication regarding black lung during the same period, so American black lung advocates had to look to the British research to support the knowledge within mining communities of the dangers of black lung.

2 Responses to “History Article on Early 20th Century Black Lung: “‘Buying brains and experts’: British Coal Owners, Regulatory Capture and Miners’ Health, 1918 – 1946””

  1. Andrew Perchard


    Thanks for this. I have sent you a copy of the piece. As explained, once the publisher’s period of embargo is over, we will provide a link to an open access version.

    All good wishes,


    • Evan B. Smith

      Thanks! I got the article and look forward to reading it once I have some time and sharing it once we’re able to.


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