Collection OEDA - Occupational and Environmental Diseases Association (William Ashton Tait) Archives

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Occupational and Environmental Diseases Association (William Ashton Tait) Archives


  • 1969-2009 (Creation)
  • 1897-2009 (Accumulation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

c.117 metres / 624 archive boxes (of which 290 OEDA main collection, 317 OEDA CF series, 17 OEDA CM series) + c.11 metres of OEDA collection of printed material + 5 plan chest drawers of nonstandard size materials including index cards, display boards, posters, maps and plans.

Mainly paper including photographs; also some VHS, compact cassettes, radiographs, digital files on floppy disks, a few samples of asbestos-free materials and 1 textile sample.

Context area

Name of creator


Administrative history

Founded by health and safety campaigner Nancy Tait (1920-2009), the Occupational and Environmental Diseases Association (OEDA) started out as the world’s first asbestos action group, the Society for the Prevention of Asbestosis and Industrial Diseases (SPAID).

SPAID was registered as a charity in November 1978, initially operating from Nancy Tait’s home in Enfield, North London. Following a successful funding bid to the Greater London Council, the charity occupied office space in Cuffley, North London, from October 1983. Funding continued for nearly 20 years. In 1988 SPAID added an electron microscope laboratory to its services, the EM Research Unit, which was equipped with the latest technology to detect asbestos fibres in lung tissue. The EM Unit occupied a ground floor suite at Mitre House, Enfield, which also provided additional office space. In 1995 the organisation’s two offices were consolidated at Mitre House.

At the instigation of the organisation's main funding body, SPAID underwent a management review by the Charities Effectiveness Review Trust during 1991. One outcome of the reviewing process was the decision to appoint a salaried executive director and to bring the organisation in line with the funding body’s standards for business procedures. A working party was set up in 1992, with the result that OEDA was formally incorporated at the end of September 1993 and registered as a charity in January 1994. At that stage OEDA was projected to take over as SPAID’s successor organisation from April 1994. In effect the two bodies existed in tandem for over two years. During the transition an executive director was appointed but remained in office for three months only, after which management reverted to previous arrangements. SPAID officially became OEDA in January 1996. As part of the name change, the organisation's mission broadened out to encompass occupational and environmental health issues that were not related to asbestos more explicitly than before.

From 2000 to 2002, when a new legislative body known as the Greater London Authority (GLA) was established, OEDA received GLA funding. OEDA's subsequent applications to GLA were unsuccessful. OEDA was dissolved as a registered company in April 2009, two months after Nancy Tait's death, and finally removed from the register of charities on 9 May 2010.

Original proposals for the name of the charity included 'Trust for Asbestos Welfare Research and Control' (TAWRC) and 'Asbestos Induced Diseases Society' (AIDS). Proposals for the name of the successor organisation OEDA included 'Occupational Diseases Association' (ODA), 'Industrial Diseases of the Environment Association' (IDEA) and 'Investigation of Industrial Diseases of the Environment Association' (IIDEA).

The OEDA logo was designed by Matt Wilson. The contact with the designer was through then OEDA chairman Mr Laurie Horam.

SPAID was registered as a charity on 30 November 1978 (Registered Charity 276995) and removed from the register on 11 January 2000. OEDA was registered as a charity on 6 January 1994 (Registered Charity 1031036) and removed from the register on 9 May 2010. OEDA had previously been incorporated as a private limited company by guarantee without share capital use of 'Limited' exemption (Company Number 02864612, from 21 October 1993) and was formally dissolved on 14 April 2009. Known addresses for the organisation were 6A Station Road, Cuffley; Mitre House, 66 Abbey Road, Enfield; and Nancy Tait's home at 38 Drapers Road, Enfield.

Name of creator


Biographical history

On 30 June 1968 Nancy Tait lost her husband to “a puzzling illness” which subsequently turned out to be pleural mesothelioma, a cancer associated with asbestos exposure. Available information on the disease and on how it was contracted did not convince her. She embarked on an extended fact-finding mission that grew into a research and advocacy agenda which would occupy her for four decades.

Nancy Tait was born Nancy Clark on 12 February 1920 in Enfield, north London, the daughter of William and Annie Clark. Her father was a compositor. On completing her secondary education at Enfield County School for Girls, she joined the civil service but had her career interrupted by the advent of World War 2. Assigned to the Post Office, she worked alongside her future husband, telecommunication engineer William Ashton Tait. They married in 1943 and had a son, John, by the end of the war. After the war Tait retrained as a teacher but soon returned to administrative work, arranging insurance with Lloyds, organising extra-mural exams at London University, then apprenticeships at the Master Printers Association.

When her husband, Bill, died of an occupational disease that appeared unconnected to his occupation, Nancy Tait discovered that trustworthy information on how mineral fibres affect human organisms was not an easy commodity to obtain. The experience launched her second career as an occupational and environmental health investigator and campaigner.

The award of a Churchill fellowship in 1976 allowed Tait to travel all over Europe to discuss questions of asbestos safety with international experts. In April of that year her booklet 'Asbestos kills' had come out, with support from the Silbury Fund. A year later she republished it with a new introduction and completed her fellowship with a six week visit to the United States and Canada. By then she had appeared as an expert witness before the Advisory Committee on Asbestos (the Simpson Committee), and she was serving as an expert for the environment with the EEC Economic and Social Committee Study Group on Asbestos. From spring 1978 she also served as a director of the Cancer Prevention Society, a Glasgow-based cancer pressure group set up with the backing of the Scottish TUC.

The response of the asbestos industry to the rising scrutiny of asbestos safety included an intense advertising campaign in the summer of 1976. For Nancy Tait this campaign culminated in a Turner & Newall advertisement that proclaimed: ‘You know asbestos protects—Why not say so!’, which she spotted at Euston station in 1977. Outraged by the slogan she worked to set up the Asbestos Induced Diseases Society (AIDS), launched under the name SPAID – Society for the Prevention of Asbestosis and Industrial Diseases – in the autumn of 1978. This was the first and the forerunner of a string of asbestos action groups worldwide. From 1988 SPAID ran its own electron microscope laboratory, with whose aid Tait advised special medical boards on respiratory diseases and coroners on the assessment of the presence of asbestos fibres in lung tissue. The instrument was, she stated in 1999, “the only bulwark against [certain medical experts’] efforts to secure verdicts of natural causes or open verdicts”. Tait and her organisation also provided free legal advice and supported many hundred families at inquests and benefits appeals. Beyond this, SPAID saw itself as an information service that supplied students in health & safety-related fields, concerned members of the public, welfare and medical professionals, health & safety advisors, libraries, councils, newspapers und broadcasting organisations with up to date information on virtually any occupational and environmental health threat. From 1996 the organisation operated under the name Occupational and Environmental Diseases Association (OEDA), paying tribute to its wide interests.

Tait tirelessly canvassed medical opinion and lobbied MPs, union leaders and civil servants on any aspect of occupational and environmental health threats. But asbestos continued as her main concern. She made a thorough nuisance of herself to the asbestos industry and to medical experts whose judgement on asbestosis epidemiology or the interpretation of fibre counts she found questionable, and targeted journalists who trivialised the potential health impact of asbestos. In her last decade, she contributed immensely to the banning of asbestos in 1999, to revisions of the ‘Control of asbestos at work regulations’ (2002) that introduced a new duty to manage for all non domestic premises, and to the IIAC review of benefit entitlements for asbestos-related industrial injuries (2005), which promised better compensation prospects for asbestos-related lung cancer.

In 1996 Nancy Tait was awarded an MBE, followed by an honorary doctorate from the University of Southampton three years later. Her "lonely battle with extraordinary persistence and grace to bring about a Europe-wide ban on asbestos" was rewarded with an Andrew Lees Memorial Award in 2001. The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (ISOH) presented her with the Sypol Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. Nancy Tait died on 13 February 2009, the day after her 89th birthday.

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Dr Nancy Tait MBE c/o OEDA, Mitre House, 66 Abbey Road Enfield EN1 2QN

Content and structure area

Scope and content

  • early correspondence and papers relating to Nancy Tait’s fact-finding mission regarding asbestos
  • minutes of meetings of the SPAID/OEDA Trustees, annual reports, strategic plans
  • registers and other finding aids for the extensive OEDA case file series (OEDA CF); see link below
  • information resources on employers and insurers and other materials for supporting compensation claims
  • some case correspondence, medical appeals correspondence, correspondence with the medical appeal administration, and with the social security commissioner
  • documentation of the different types of information services provided by SPAID / OEDA, among them series relating to occupational and environmental health enquiries; SPAID / OEDA publications and display boards; responses to requests for information from solicitors; and responses to requests for information from the media
  • records relating to SPAID/OEDA's research into asbestos related diseases, mortality statistics, latency periods; also testimony before commissions, consultancy reports
  • SPAID/OEDA's extensive advocacy work over four decades
  • interactions with victims support groups, unions, fellow activists, occupational health experts, historians, solicitors and legal scholars
  • conferences and meetings to which Nancy Tait and her organisation contributed or which she attended
  • information files compiled on specific topics
  • series of correspondence and telephone memoranda
  • SPAID/OEDA accounts; also fundraising activities including grant applications
  • some documentation of the creation and running of the Electron Microscope Research Unit
  • instructions and manuals relating to office procedures and information management in the organisation
  • reference library (OEDA/K) including the organisation's collection of scientific papers, deposits and judgements, statutory instruments, DSS claims forms 1969-2007, clusters of press coverage, etc


  • OEDA collection of printed material; see link below
  • ten series of case files (OEDA CF, see link below)
  • OEDA's copies of the Chase Manhattan Turner & Newall papers (OEDA CM, see link below)
  • several standalone collections accepted to the OEDA archive during the 1990s, including the research papers of M J Sanders, records of Cancer Prevention Society, Glasgow, and the papers documenting refrigeration management worker W H Knight's compensation claim; see links below

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling

Originally the collection extended over c.170 metres. The reduction, by over 50 metres, is not the result of an aggressive appraisal policy. The OEDA main collection originally contained an unusual number of multiple photocopies, whose removal accounts for the bulk of the shrinkage in collection volume. A list of the appraisal rules is available. Further, the collection was found to contain three collections in their own right: the W H Knight papers (GB 249 KNIG, 2 archive boxes), the Records of the Cancer Prevention Society (GB 249 CPSG, 4 archive boxes), and the M J Sanders papers (GB 249 SAND, 2 archive boxes); see links below.

The collection originally contained human tissue material as well as samples of vinyl tiles and other everyday household products containing asbestos. These have been removed in compliance with the Human Tissue (Scotland) Act 2006, health and safety regulations, and common sense.


System of arrangement

Arranged by type of activity. This is based on extensive scoping of collection content, and on the organisation's Trust Deed (1978) and Memorandum & Articles of Association (1993), resulting in the following structure:

  • main body of the OEDA Archives: ten sections prefixed by letters A to K
  • two external sections: OEDA CF - case files series, OEDA CM - OEDA Chase Manhattan Turner & Newall papers
  • three standalone collections: KNIG - W H Knight papers; SAND - M J Sanders papers; and CPSG - Records of the Cancer Prevention Society, Glasgow
  • OEDA collection of printed material

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Access to some parts of the collection is restricted in compliance with the UK General Data Protection Regulation and the Data Protection Act 1998 or because of posthumous medical confidentiality. Where there are restrictions, these are noted at the appropriate point in the catalogue.

Conditions governing reproduction

Language of material

  • English

Script of material

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    Finding aids

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