Workmen's Compensation Act 1897

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The Workmen's Compensation Act 1897 was British law in operation from 1897 to 1946. Great Britain followed the German model. Joseph Chamberlain, leader of the Liberal Unionist party and in coalition with the Conservatives, designed a plan that was enacted under the Salisbury government in 1897. The Act was a key domestic achievement. It served its social purpose at no cost to the government, since compensation was paid for by insurance which employers were required to take out to pay for medical costs of injuries on the job. It replaced the Employers' Liability Act 1880, which gave the injured worker the right to sue the employer but put the burden of proof on the employee. After 1897, injured employees had only to show that they had been injured on the job.[1] These are roughly the same rights German workers were awarded in their 1884 law.[2] The Act was replaced by an expanded scheme under the Workmen's Compensation Act 1906.[3]


A "workman" was defined as,

"any person who is engaged in an employment to which this Act applies, whether by way of manual labour or otherwise."[4]

The employments to which the Act applied were stated to be railways, mining and quarrying, factory work and laundry work.

Interpretation by Courts[edit]

Courts took a restrictive interpretation of the Act in Simpson v. Ebbw Vale Steel, Iron & Coal Co. [5] A widow claimed for the death of a colliery manager who had been killed in an underground accident. Lord Collins MR held that her dead husband was outside the Act's scope, because though the act extended to non-manual workers[6] the victim "must still be a workman". He said the Act:

"presupposes a position of dependence; it treats the class of workmen as being in a sens inopes consilii, and the Legislature does for them what they cannot do for themselves: it gives them a sort of State insurance, it being assumed that they are either not sufficiently intelligent or not sufficiently in funds to insure themselves. In no sense can such a principle extend to those who are earning good salaries."[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ History of Workers' Compensation, Florida AWC
  2. ^ Burriesci, 2001.
  3. ^ D. C. Hanes, The First British Workmen's Compensation Act of 1897 (1968).
  4. ^ Workmen's Compensation Act 1897, s.7
  5. ^ Simpson v. Ebbw Vale Steel, Iron & Coal Co. (1905)
  6. ^ unlike the previous law under the Employers Liability Act 1880, from Morgan v. London General Omnibus Co. (1884) 13 QBD 832
  7. ^ Simpson, 1905


  • Jack J. Burriesci, "Historical Summary Of Workers' Compensation Laws" (March 7, 2001) 2001-R-0261 online
  • D. C. Hanes, The First British Workmen's Compensation Act of 1897 (1968).
  • Simon Deakin, 'The historical process of wage formation', in Linda Clarke et al., The Dynamics of Wage Relations in the New Europe (2000) pp. 38–9
  • Simon Deakin, 'Welfare State and Contract of Employment', in Noel Whiteside et al., Governance, Industry and Labour Markets in Britain and France (1998) pp. 212 ff.
  • Frankel, Lee K., and Dawson, Miles, M., Workingmen's Insurance in Europe, New York: Charities Publication Committee, 1911.