Accidents In the Cotton Mills: A Solution Many Years Too Late

I was watching something about Cotton Mills recently (The Mill, Channel 4 if you want to know what it was) and it brought a thought to my mind, specifically a thought about children having gruesome and horrifically fatal accidents. I know that isn’t a pleasant thought but then again there wasn’t much about life in the cotton mills that was pleasant. There wasn’t much about the whole cotton industry that was pleasant now you mention it. But anyway… One such job that children had to do would be to pick up all the loose cotton off the floor and from under the machines. These sorts of machines:

Those kids were called Mule scavengers and as you can see those things could be quite nasty if you got caught in one. They wouldn’t be stopped whilst the floor was cleaned either. It wasn’t uncommon for fatal accidents and there is one such story where a young boy had his head caught/cut off in the machinery. There are many more such horror stories about the life of the mule scavenger. The job was one of the most dangerous, perhaps the most dangerous job in all of history. And yet, it seems, nobody thought of the most obvious solution.

Go back to the video. You’ll see that the mule moves backwards and forwards in a regular motion. Why not utilize that motion… Why not place some sort of a brush on the underside of the mule (There does look to be enough room) so that as it moves backwards and forwards it brushes up the loose cotton. It is, I’m sure you will agree, a very simple and elegant solution. It would even be more efficient as the brush could do the thing in one go whereas a child might take two or three. Having a brush underneath would mean those mule scavengers would be in less danger. Their work would be easier, they wouldn’t have to crawl about under the machinery and the mill owners wouldn’t need so many of them, or even any at all… (fewer people to feed + less wages to pay + more efficiency + better safety record = happy mill owner.)

Adding a brush is a win-win situation. The mule scavengers have better working conditions, the mill owners have more efficiency, money and a better reputation as children aren’t being injured all over the place. In fact the only people who lose out are those made redundant owing to the need for less mule scavengers… But at least those redundant children wouldn’t be crawling about under machinery… And maybe, without being mule scavengers, they would have a better life (or perhaps not, considering the period.) It’s a wonder nobody thought about this for a solution when it was actually relevant.


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