The Human Machinery of War

The Human Machinery of War: Disability on the Front Lines and the Factory Floor, 1941-1945
Aiding the Disabled Worker
Photograph: Injured Worker Receiving X-ray
Photograph: Worker Receives Whirlfoam Bath Treatment on Her Legs
Office of War Information, 1942,
"Health and welfare activities. North American Aviation. Expert medical attention is given all employees at North American Aviation in Inglewood, California. Whether the injury is incidental or major, all accidents are given instant attention in NAA's hospital. Here, an office worker is having an X-ray made of an ailing wrist."
Office of War Information, 1942,
"Health and welfare activities. North American Aviation. Expert medical attention is given all workers at North American Aviation in Inglewood, California. Whether the injury is incidental or major, all accidents are given immediate examination in NAA's hospital. Here, a young office worker gets a whirlfoam bath treatment. . . ."
The Nature and Extent of the Problem
Estimated Number of Disabling Industrial Injuries, By Major Industry Group: 1942 to 1946

[In thousands. Includes employees and self-employed. . . .]
Industry Group
1942 1943 1944 1945 1946 (1) 1942 1943 1944 1945 1946 (1)
All industries
Deaths and permanent total disabilities
2,267.7 2,414.0 2,230.4 2,019.8 2,063.1 19.9 20.1 17.6 17.8 18.3
Agriculture (2) 283.7 311.9 311.9 305.6 323.6 4.9 5.2 5.2 4.9 4.9
Mining and quarrying (3) 102.7 96.4 92.1 82.1 83.8 2.2 2.2 1.9 1.7 1.5
Construction (4) 349.5 260.1 99.6 112.2 151.1 3.6 2.7 1.2 1.8 2.5
Manufacturing (5) 635.2 802.5 786.9 591.6 541.5 2.8 3.4 8.2 3.0 2.7
Public Utilities 21.0 19.7 19.3 20.3 25.5 .5 .4 .4 .4 .4
Trade, wholesale, and retail (4) 284.2 268.4 273.8 296.0 333.1 1.3 1.2 .8 .9 1.5
Railroads (6) 60.8 85.4 92.4 94.1 76.0 1.3 1.5 1.5 1.5 1.1
Miscellaneous transportation (4) 136.9 146.0 135.1 139.9 132.8 1.3 1.4 1.0 1.1 1.0
Service, government and misc. industry (4) 393.7 423.6 419.3 378.0 395.7 2.0 2.1 2.4 2.5 2.7
All industries
Permanent partial disabilities
Temporary total disabilities
100.8 108.0 94.4 88.1 93.1 2,147.0 2,285.9 2,118.4 1,913.9 1,951.7
Agriculture (2) 14.2 15.6 15.6 15.3 16.2 264.6 291.1 291.1 285.4 302.5
Mining and quarrying (3) 4.5 4.2 4.0 3.6 3.7 96.0 90.0 86.2 76.8 78.6
Construction (4) 17.1 12.8 3.6 3.4 3.9 328.8 244.6 94.8 107.0 144.7
Manufacturing (5) 27.0 34.1 35.4 30.7 28.2 605.4 765.0 748.3 557.9 510.6
Public Utilities .5 .5 .5 .6 .6 20.0 18.8 18.4 19.3 24.5
Trade, wholesale, and retail (4) 7.0 6.6 6.0 7.1 8.0 275.9 260.6 267.0 288.0 323.6
Railroads (6) 4.2 5.9 6.4 6.5 5.3 55.3 78.0 84.5 86.1 69.6
Miscellaneous transportation (4) 3.8 4.1 4.1 4.2 7.6 131.8 140.5 130.0 134.6 124.2
Service, government and misc. industry (4) 22.5 24.2 18.8 16.7 19.6 369.2 397.3 398.1 358.8 373.4

(1) Preliminary
(2) Based on fragmentary data.
(3) Based largely on Bureau of Mines data.

(4) Based on small sample studies.
(5) Based on comprehensive survey.
(6) Based on Interstate Commerce Commission data.

Source: “Estimated Number of Disabling Industrial Injuries, By Major Industry Group: 1942 to 1946,” in Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1947 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1947), 216.
Excerpt from U.S. Congress, House, Committee on Labor, Subcommittee to Investigate Aid to the Physically Handicapped, Hearings, Part 12, Accident Prevention, 79th Congress, First Session (Washington, D.C. Government Printing Office, 1945), 1408-1411.

. . . . Mr. Thomas. . . . Mr. Chairman, my name is Fred C. Thomas. I am the Director of Industrial Safety with the Minimum Wage and Industrial Safety Board of the District of Columbia.

The function of the Board is twofold. One, as its title says, for minimum-wage, 8-hour-day law, and so forth, for employees; that is private employees in the District of Columbia. It does not take in, of course, the Federal or District Government.

If I may say so, Mr. Chairman, this subject has been covered so thoroughly by the previous speakers, I would like to take another line and point out that even in a community such as the District of Columbia, which is not recognized as an industrial city, such as Detroit, that last year we had 23,026 injuries; 8,444 of those were lost-time injuries. You have some idea of the amount of cost to the employers and to the Government by the fact that the average lost-time injury, according to the Labor Department statistics, is 16 days. That really runs into a terrific amount of lost time in production, which means tying up equipment and tools, and costs industry huge sums of money every year.

In the previous year the injuries in the District of Columbia in private industry were 26,005, with 56 fatalities.

Mr. [Augustine B.] Kelley [Chairman of the Subcommittee to Investigate Aid to the Physically Handicapped]. Fifty-six?

Mr. Thomas. Fifty-six; yes, sir. That is the number of private employees fatally injured out of around 180,000.

Now, I have with me Mr. Andy Bryson, this gentleman here, who lost his arm in an extractor in a laundry plant.

Mr. Kelley. Laundry?

Mr. Thomas. Yes sir. An extractor is a centrifugal device which extracts the moisture from the linen in the process of drying, and many of them are manufactured with what is referred to as an interlocking device which controls the starter of the inside basket. Until the cover is placed down you can't start or open it until the basket has come to a stop. Many of these devices were permitted to become inoperative, and no devices were built into many machines. . . .

Mr. Kelley. Does the war have anything to do with the neglect?

Mr. Thomas. At present time it does, but many of these machines are 10 or 15 or 20 years old, so it doesn't affect them. They could have been changed before the war, but today it is a factor. It is difficult to get the equipment and make the installation. . . .

This gentleman lost his arm in operating this machine because there was no device on it. This particular machine was originally designed with an interlocking device which was allowed to become inoperative from lack of parts, and maybe it would be well to describe, if the chairman wishes, just what happened.

Will you describe, Mr. Bryson, what happened to you when the accident occurred?


Mr. Kelley. Go ahead, Mr. Bryson.

Mr. Bryson. After loading we got orders not to let the sheets fall out and tear out. One of them fell out, and I had to knock it back in because I couldn't pull the door. It wouldn't close, and when I hit it it wrapped around my arm and pulled it in the shaft and pulled it off.

Mr. Kelley. Pulled it completely off?

Mr. Bryson. Yes.

Mr. Kelley. Has the company given you anything today? Are you still employed there?. . . .

Mr. Bryson. Yes.

Mr. Kelley. At a reduction of wages?

Mr. Bryson. They cut my salary all right. . . . Cut it from $25 to $18. . . .


Mr. Thomas. The other gentleman, Mr. Chairman, is Mr. Leon Macon, and he has lost four fingers on his left hand in a power-driven circular saw. . . .

Mr. Kelley. There should have been a guard. Did it have?

Mr. Thomas. There should have been a guard; yes, sir. Of course, I would like to point out that our division is limited in its inspection force. We have three inspectors, one of whom was put on within the last year, and we haven't had the funds to put out the literature. . . .

Mr. Kelley. How often can they get around to your plant?

Mr. Thomas. Approximately twice a year.

Mr. Kelley. That isn't enough.

Mr. Thomas. . . . This particular piece of equipment, since the accident occurred, has been dismantled and another saw they had on the premises installed. A guard was provided; it wasn't on the machine when the inspector made the inspection but was installed while the inspector was there.

Do you care to tell the chairman how this accident occurred?

Mr. Macon. We were working on some 2 by 8's, making 2 by 4's out of them; the length of them was 18 feet, and it took three men to work them. One man had to push the timber through and one pull it out; the other had to hold it against the blade of the saw so it could make it a good cut. I was holding the timber against the blade with a stick and it struck a knot opposite my hand and pushed my hand right in the blade. . . .

Mr. Kelley. What did they do for you?

Mr. Macon. I am drawing compensation. . . . I still have got to have some additional work done on my hand; there is a splintered bone in it.

Mr. Kelley. Will they continue your job?

Mr. Macon. They offered me a job as night watchman, from 5 o'clock in the evening until 8 o'clock in the morning.

Mr. Kelley. On salary or by the hour?

Mr. Macon. On a salary, $25 a week, 7 days a week.

Mr. Kelley. That is a lot less than you were paid before, isn't it?

Mr. Macon. Yes, sir. . . .

Tackling the Problem: Worker's Compensation and Rehabilitation
Excerpt from Frances J. Montgomery and Sylvia E. Lurie, "Use of Handicapped Workers in War Industry," Monthly Labor Review 57 (September 1943), 437, 443.

. . . . The problem of employing physically handicapped persons is not new. The movement to train and place the disabled in useful employment was fostered by private agencies before the present century. Government interest began in the early 1900's when some States first enacted workmen's compensation laws providing for medical attention and payment of compensation in connection with industrial accidents. Some of these laws included a provision for furnishing artificial aids which would restore the worker's employability. After World War I, Congress established the U. S. Veterans' Bureau, and included among its functions the rehabilitation of disabled veterans. In cooperation with trade schools and various institutions, the Bureau rehabilitated 129,000 veterans and placed 125,000 of them in jobs. Since the workmen's compensation laws did not provide for the training of disabled workers and since the Veterans' Bureau program was for ex-servicemen only, various States established rehabilitation services for disabled civilians after 1920. The functions of these services included counsel in the selection of suitable occupations, physical restoration, and such training as might be needed to fit the physically handicapped for employment. Later the U. S. Employment Service undertook the placement of those physically handicapped persons who did not need special training. . . .

Perhaps the greatest benefit to accrue from a policy of utilizing the physically handicapped to the fullest possible extent is one which is independent of any advantages gained by either the individual worker or employer. A decrease in the number of those who must depend for their welfare on the good-will or charity of others, and a corresponding increase in the self-supporting and independent, cannot fail to mean a healthier community and stronger nation.

Excerpt from "Restoring the Civilian Disabled to Jobs," Monthly Labor Review 60
(June 1945), 1231 -1232.

UNDER an expanded program of civilian vocational rehabilitation made possible by the passage, on July 6, 1943, of the Barden-LaFollette Act (Vocational Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1943), 43,997 disabled person in the United States were restored vocationally and placed in employment designated as suitable, during the fiscal year ended June 30, 1944. . . .

Coverage.--The Barden-LaFollette Act was designed primarily as a permanent program for the civilian disabled. . . .

Services.--Under the new program provision was made for various types of services in order to render persons handicapped from whatever cause (accident, disease, or congenital defect) capable of engaging in remunerative employment or of being employed more advantageously on a normal competitive basis; and for the first time Federal funds were made available for physical restoration. Physical restoration services are expected to remove substantially or eliminate the employment handicap, which must be relatively stable, and remedial within a reasonable period.

Physical examination, counseling, training, and placement are available free, a medical examination being a requirement for the determination of eligibility. Medical treatment, including hospitalization up to 90 days and prosthetic devices, transportation, maintenance, instructional supplies, occupational tools, and equipment are provided without cost if the applicant is unable to pay for them.

Administration.--The program of civilian vocational rehabilitation is administered by a Federal-State plan under the Federal Security Agency, which, in September 1943, established the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation as a constituent unit. . . . That office is responsible for the establishment of standards in the various areas of service, for technical assistance to the States, and for certification of funds for grants-in-aid to the States after approval of State plans. . . .

Photograph: Injured Worker Receiving X-ray Photograph: Worker Receives Whirlfoam Bath Treatment on Her Legs