( Originally Published 1936 )
FROM painter's colic to clergyman's sore throat, from wool-sorter's disease to housemaid's knee, from miner's consumption to writer's cramp—occupational diseases have always been an interesting study.
In the old "Book of Trades" of long ago they are mentioned, described and pictured. Some new ones, however, keep coming along.
Telegrapher's cramp has been the subject of a recent study. It is, of course, much like the writer's cramp of the old clerks of pre-typewriter days. The freer movements demanded by the typewriter do not seem to lead to "typewriter's cramp" with any frequency. At least, I have never heard of a case.
But telegrapher's cramp is fairly frequent. The muscles of the. hand and arm get into spasm, just as in writer's cramp, and prevent continuation of work. The puzzling thing is why the disease should occur in one group of workers while not occurring in others who do just as much and just as hard work.
An investigation into this question by Smith, Culpin and Farmer, reveals unquestionably a temperamental quirk in those who develop the cramp. Neither in this nor in writer's cramp has organic disease of the muscles or nerves ever been found. The subjects who develop cramp are "highly strung" or "nervous" individuals with poor muscular co-ordination. "A person emotionally unstable working in an atmosphere either actually or conceived of by him as unstable, will have just that interaction of conditions necessary for `cramp.' "
The study indicates that psychological tests are just as important as physical examinations when selecting certain groups of workers.
Affection of the lungs in the trades using asbestos has lately come to light. It is called pulmonary asbestosis. It seems to be much like miner's consumption. One of the early cases was of an asbestos worker found by his doctor dying of consumption, who said that he was the last survivor of ten men who had started out with him in the same factory.
The lungs of such workers are filled with foreign particles, especially microscopic bits of iron in the asbestos fiber. This causes thickening and scarring of the tissues of the lung. Finally, in almost all instances, tuberculosis settles on the lung as a secondary invader.
Such a chain of events occurs to workers in many dusty trades. Methods of prevention by the wearing of masks will do much to make the condition of labor in these occupations safer.