Bernardino Ramazzini: a pioneer in occupational health

Bernardino Ramazzini: a pioneer in occupational health

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By Paco Puche

A few months ago a book appeared entitled Treaty on workers' diseases [1], in which the great work of the famous doctor Ramazzini was presented in a bilingual version: the Latin original and the translation into Spanish, and each of the forty chapters of the original was accompanied by a comment from a different author who glossed them in his own way. Chapter XXVI corresponded to me. Here is my contribution:

Commentary on Chapter XXVI of Bernardino Ramazzini's book, From Morbis Artificum Diatribe, published in 1700, entitled "De Morbis, quibus Lini, Cannabis, ac Sericearum Placentarum Carminatores tentari folent"

(Of the diseases that usually afflict the carders of flax, hemp and skeins of silk)

In the very short text dedicated to this chapter, Bernardino Ramazzini, father of occupational medicine, displays all his ingenuity and his critical commitment to humanity.

He bluntly points out the terrible working conditions in the jobs that occur with these natural textiles (linen, hemp and silk). He speaks of "its infectious and seriously harmful odor"; that "such a noxious and harmful dust is released (that) it forces workers to cough continuously", and for that reason "you can always see their pale complexions and suffering from coughs, asthma and legacies"; that “(of the oozing ointments) they cannot help but breathe in their foul particles through their mouths”; and he ends his speech stating that "few artisans grow old with this profession."

With remarkable anticipation he makes a few notes in favor of women. She affirms that: “those who carde the skeins of silk discarded by the workshops, (task) that our women do (… as if nature had kept the silk hidden for their benefit only)”.

Subtly, it condemns greed. He says: “I met in this city a family that, after having enriched themselves with this profession, perished miserably consumed by consumption (because of) the trade to which they had dedicated themselves without interruption”(Emphasis is mine). It maintains, in some way, that this excessive desire to earn money is also a high risk factor for health at work.

The chapter ends with his recommendations to alleviate these ills: drink milk, marshmallow and violet tea, or endive juice, and “if you find that such a profession (that of carding these natural fibers) makes you seriously ill, look for in another occupation their livelihood, because it is a terrible profit that ruins a thing as valuable as health ”. How grateful the asbestos workers would have been for this last recommendation! But no “Ramazzini” appeared in time in the last 20th century. And how true is that sentence that affirms that "health is priceless."

The next game would be to find out what Ramazzini would think if we could resurrect him and bring him into our world. With his baggage, naturally.

I would not understand how hemp is so proscribed, being a raw material of which more than 2,500 industrial uses have been identified, having had a millenary use, producing therapeutic effects in many pathologies and that, consumed moderately, produces euphoric effects, like wine .

I would observe how the same occupational health problems are still pending: pathological dust in industries causing the byssinosis [2] and "spinning fever", hard jobs for women and specific occupational diseases. But he would find new problems, previously absent. Those derived from machining, such as noise with risks of professional deafness, and accidents from machines with crushing rollers or raking machines, for example, which can cause serious mutilation. He would also find pathological working conditions in the maquilas. And you would be alarmed at the new risks derived from the agriculture of these natural fibers, which were non-existent in the past. We refer to the amount of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, nematocides and other types of biocides that accompany industrial agriculture, practiced in an important part of the world, not all.

I would discover that the cause of the textile maquila has its dynamics in the process by which multinationals contract with local companies to produce part of the goods, for example, the manufacture of garments that are already cut. These contracts have quality requirements and just-in-time delivery for a sum of money determined by the multinational, so this local businessman, in order to maintain the profit rate, hires labor for the lowest possible cost and tends to circumvent all the environmental conditioning factors. This dynamic reserves tasks with lower added value for peripheral countries and this means that this precarious work falls, above all, on women: between 70 and 80% of the total, according to the ILO.

The case of Guatemala can illustrate this situation: “in the maquilas it is forbidden to get pregnant, urinate more than twice a day and even drink water during the work day. It is also prohibited to complain or miss a single day due to illness.
For them, even age is a drawback. If they exceed 35 years, they are rejected immediately, while those hired, regularly between 16 and 30 years of age, must be willing to do so in inhumane conditions.
Overcrowding, poor ventilation and sometimes lack of toilets and drinking water are situations that women must face when entering these galleries, where many times up to 350 people remain together. And all in order to receive, at the end of the month, a salary that is lower than the cost of the basic food basket and equally small than that earned by the men who perform the same tasks as them, also under inhuman conditions, but without suffering such cruel treatment. ."[3]

Our physician would conclude that these working conditions are intrinsically pathological.

Faced with this present scenario, the rescued Ramazzini, would make proposals such as the following:

-Control of environmental dust through extraction and ventilation systems.

- Specific protection of the workers themselves: masks, work clothes, etc. and suitable premises.

- Humidification, for example, of processes such as stretching and twisting of the thread.

- Noise reduction

-Workers' health controls

-Systems for reducing work times, daily and throughout working life.

- I grow textile plants with ecological procedures, free of biocides.

- Elimination of the maquilas and fight against the power of the multinationals.

- And finally, a reminder to the greedy that life is short and major goods are off the market.

To say goodbye to Master Ramazzini, a pioneering scientist, honestly concerned about occupational health and the discriminated condition of women at work, who we have made travel in time (and as corresponds to this chapter that we have commented on industrial fibers), To say goodbye I say, we would offer you a good linen jacket from organic farming, a silk scarf to wear in the pocket of the aforementioned jacket and a cannabis cigarette to cheer you around the other world, from which we have taken it without Your consent.

Video: Workplace Health and Safety History, to the 1920s (July 2022).


  1. Martin

    I apologise, but, in my opinion, you commit an error.

  2. Iseabail

    I didn't understand everything.

  3. Tatilar

    It seems to me a remarkable phrase

  4. Breri

    Oh thank you

  5. Zachariah

    In my opinion, you admit the mistake. I offer to discuss it. Write to me in PM, we'll talk.

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