Monday, 26 December 2011

Industrial accidents at Aitken

Breweries could be dangerous places. The number of reports of accidents at Aitken's brewery prove that. Some were even fatal.

We've already heard about the well-digging tragedy. The construction of the new brewery also claimed a life:

Serious Crane Accident - One Man Killed and Two Severely Injured. - On Saturday morning a serious crane accident, involving the death of one man and the severe injury of two others, occurred at a new building in course of erection at Messrs James Aitken & Company's brewery, on the north side of Newmarket Street. Falkirk. It appears that John Gunn and Daniel McKay, joiners, Melville Street, Falkirk, and James McCue, labourer, Manor Street, Falkirk, were on a scaffolding -10 feet high lowering, by means of a steam crane, the stay of a hand crane which had formerly been used in place of the present steam one, when the jib of the steam crane, which weighed about 16 cwts., unaccountably gave way and fell with a crash on the scaffolding, breaking in two pieces. Gunn was knocked down by the falling jib, which caught him across the body and pinned him to the scaffold on which he had been working, while the other two men were thrown off the scaffolding by the jib, and fell to the ground, sustaining severe injuries. The scaffolding, beyond a portion of the wooden girder which was broken by the jib, remained intact, and as soon as the accident was observed the workmen about the place hastened up to the top to remove the jib from Gunn. This was expeditiously accomplished. He was quite conscious, and when the weight was taken from him he complained of internal pains, and asked for a drink of water, which was given him. He also gave some instructions with regard to his mother, and never spoke afterwards, dying from his injuries within half-an-hour from the time of the accident. Dr Fraser, who was sent for, was soon on the spot, and found that Gunn had been badly crushed internally by the heavy stroke he received from the jib, and that there was no hope of his recovery. McKay was seriously bruised about the body, chiefly through his striking a beam in his fall, and it was found necessary to convey him to the Falkirk Cottage Hospital, McCue was less severely injured, and was taken home. On inquiry last night we were informed that both men were progressing favourably, and that they are quite out of danger. It appears that somehow the chain which held the jib to the crane had run down, and that the last link had snapped. The men employed on the scaffolding had not the least warning of the occurrence, so as to get out of the way of the falling jib. Gunn and McKay were joiners in the employment of Messrs J. & A. Main, Falkirk. They both belonged to Edinburgh, and had been in the firm's employment for about a month. Gunn, who was 22 years of age and unmarried, was a very quiet and respectable young man, and was greatly liked by his fellow-workmen. His dead body was conveyed by train from Grahamston Station to Edinburgh on Monday forenoon, and as a token of respect to him his fellow-employees stopped work, and, proceeding to Grahamston Station, carried the coffin from the hearse to the train. The joiners and bricklayers employed at the erection of the new building at the brewery also subscribed for a beautiful wreath to be placed on his grave. The wreath hid the following inscription on an accompanying plate:- "In affectionate remembrance of John Gunn, who was accidentally killed at Falkirk Brewery, June 24th, 1899, aged 22 years. A token of sympathy from his fellow-workmen."
Falkirk Herald - Wednesday 28 June 1899, page 4.
That sounds pretty nasty. The poor bloke hit by the jib didn't stand a chance. For those not acquainted with Imperial measures, 16cwt. is three-quarters of a ton. But how did the others fare? Luckily for us nosy bastards, a later newspaper report tells us about what happened to McCue, the least seriously injured.

A Sequel to the Accident at the Brewery. -
In the Falkirk Sheriff Court on Wednesday proof was led in an action at the instance of John Gardner, builder, Falkirk, against Edward McCue, labourer, Manor Street, Falkirk, in which pursuer sued for cash advanced to the defender on loan at various times, amounting in all to £8 15s 6d. From the evidence it appeared that the defender was engaged as a labourer with the pursuer at the Falkirk Brewery in June last, and was so injured by an accident which occurred through the breaking of a crane there that he was unable to work for six weeks. The pursuer said that after the accident he sent the defender a sum, equal to the wages he would have earned, out of sympathy. He thought, he said, that as McCue was a young man newly married he would be in need of money, and pursuer's foreman spoke to having taken the money to McCue on more than one occasion. The foreman, however, never told McCue that it was a loan, or that he was to pay it back, and Mr Gardner had never mentioned it to him. The defender stated that the money was sent to him unsolicited. Nothing was said to him that it was by way of loan, or that it was to be repaid Mr Gardner after his claim had been settled by the insurance company. He never saw Mr Gardner during the whole period of his incapacity, and after he resumed work no mention was made about his repaying the money until he was leaving the pursuer's employment some time afterwards. He had received £20 from the insurance company, who were instructed by Mr Gardner. Pursuer's agent maintained that the onus was on the defender to prove loan, and as he had failed to do so, he would ask decree. For the defender it was pointed out that the action was one for the sum of £8 15s 6d originally - over £100 Scots - although it had now been restricted to £7 10. As it originally stood, the onus was on the pursuer to prove a loan, and that by the writ or oath of the defender, and though the sum was now restricted to £7 10s, that did not remove the onus on the defender, and as the pursuer himself had admitted that the payments made was money advanced out of sympathy, it was clear that the payments were gratuitous in a way, and therefore not liable to be sued for. The pursuer had paid through his agents the insurance company's £20, without mention of the former weekly payments having to be repaid. The Sheriff thought that defender's position was unreasonable. He received £20 from the insurance company plus £7 10s as wages, which amounted to about £4 10s a week, and was a great deal in excess of what he was entitled to under the Compensation Act. He therefore decided for the pursuer. Agents - For pursuer, Messrs A. and J. C. Allan and Co., solicitors, Falkirk; for defender, Messrs Marshall and Hunter, solicitors, Falkirk.
Falkirk Herald - Wednesday 27 December 1899, page 6.

I found this report fascinating. I'd wondered what happened to the injured workers. Remembering that this was before the Welfare State, I was intrigued to find out how workers fed themselves and their families while unable to work through injury.

The employer's initial reaction - to send McCue the wages he would have earned if fit - seems pretty fair. After that, it gets more complicated. It sounds as if the employer decided to get the money back after McCue found work elsewhere, claiming it had been a loan. It doesn't sound to me as if it had been presented that way. And I suspect that if McCue had continued in his employment, he wouldn't have asked for it back.

I'm surprised that McCue was insured. Presumably through his employer. £20 is a decent sum, especially as it seems his wages were only £1 5s a week. But the Sheriff's judgement that £4 10s a week was too much for McCue to receive doesn't seem based the law, but on how much he thought a labourer should receive.

I'd have been dead pissed off if I were McCue. Because despite it not being proved that the money had been a loan, he still had to pay it back. Just because some twat thought he'd received too much. Much like the courts today really. Do the working classes get the same justice as the better off? Like buggery.

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