Eight interviews conducted by David Walker in pursuit of his doctoral research on ‘Occupational health and safety in the British chemical industry, 1914-1974’ (PhD thesis, University of Strathclyde, 2007: http://strathprints.strath.ac.uk/6429).
The oral history project was designed to capture the human experience of working within the British chemical industry. The desired outcome was to find respondents with a range of job descriptions that had worked in different types of plant. Although comparatively small, the cohort interviewed represents a good coverage of the industry in that the plastic, chromate, explosive and fertiliser sectors are all represented.
In total, nine respondents were interviewed with one, Richard Fitzpatrick, being interviewed twice (Mr Fitzpatrick was 87 years old at the time and grew visibly tired during the first interview). Three respondents from Cheshire (who were related to one another) were interviewed as a group. Normally interviews were conducted on a one-to-one basis in the homes of the respondents although wives and other family members were also present in all cases, with the exception of one of the anonymous respondents from Dumfries who was alone.
The average age of those interviewed was 71, with birth dates ranging from 1917 to 1945. The employment histories of the respondents ranged from the late 1930s to the late 1970s.
All those interviewed were asked standard questions at the outset such as the respondent’s name, date of birth, where they were born, if they had brothers or sisters, if they had children, at what age did they leave school and what was their first job. Thereafter, in a relatively unstructured manner questions were asked of the respondents about the experiences they had in connection with the chemical industry.
With the exception of one former manager of a chemical plant all the respondents had worked as process workers or were related to family members who also worked as process workers. Why no former directors or technologists came forward to participate in this study cannot be explained by reference to the design of the recruitment material. One reason that may explain the general problem in recruiting respondents was made by two former process workers from Dumfries who admitted that their former colleagues had seen the recruitment article published in the local press but had refused to make contact because they were fearful that Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) would stop their pension if they talked to an outsider. Although ICI would not take such a step it is nonetheless interesting that former employees of the firm offered this as the reason for not sharing their memories.