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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 12 (April 1, 1930)

Medical Services in the Modern Workshop

Medical Services in the Modern Workshop

Most modern undertakings have come to the realisation that the employer is not solely concerned with labour in the objective sense. Buying labour is expensive, and, if only on that account, it is necessary that care should be exercised in conserving it as far as possible. It is evident that the American factory which provides a hospital and a dental surgery for its employees balances the costs of doctor, nurse, dentist and equipment, against loss of time on medical or dental scores. It “pays,” obviously, or else it would have been discarded long since.

Considering the matter without succumbing to sentimental weakness, the works manager realises that medical attention is better “on tap” than “just round the corner.” The worker, of course, learns to regard the work's medical assistance as an integral part of the factory—something upon which he can pin his faith. These two aspects are complementary.

At present, the Railway Workshops in New Zealand are evolving what is, I believe, a better system than that in some American shops. Take, for example, the history of the “medical” side of the Department's Workshops at Otahuhu. It is rather interesting. Until quite recently skilled attention for cuts, bruises and minor accidents, was not always available. A co-operative movement was, therefore, initiated, to increase the membership of the St. John's Ambulance Association. The aim was to reach sufficient numbers so that one man could be on duty each day at the “first aid” room. The result is highly encouraging. To-day there is an enthusiasm for first aid work in the shops which is finding expression through a full strength, well organised division of “St. John's.” The room records a “log” well worth inspection. The equipment is excellent, while the underlying principle of “service-in-aid” is already becoming firmly established.

The complementary aspects referred to earlier are acknowledged without quibble. The thoughtful man, however, will see that there is a tremendous social gain, because efficient service at the shops entails a working knowledge of given principles which are not esoteric, as in the case of a doctor. Workshop knowledge is carried out into society. The realisation that major cases could not be treated satisfactorily in the small quarters at present available, led some of the more enterprising men to conclude an arrangement with a local medico whereby suitable, immediate attention was obtained for employees. The next goal is, I am informed, a fully equipped ambulance, to keep contact with the hospital. At risk of labouring the point the line of thought brought to bear is interesting. “If we wish to take a case to hospital,” said the manager, “it takes forty minutes. With our own ambulance we could cut the time in half.” This thorough probing of executive matters is part of the function of the Division upon which all shops in the works are represented.

Value of Educational Equipment.

Equally important with the physical, is the mental care which modern industry bestows on its hands. To-day, more than ever before, we realise that “blind” effort is, relatively speaking, a drag on the wheel of the car. It is in the interests of all that the effort should be conditioned by knowledge as to where it will be most effective. The “superficial workman” is giving place to the “educated artisan.” Recently I found men doing mechanical work who could discuss, with refreshing vigour, the philosophy of Plato. While no one desires to see a nation of “highbrows” it would be manifestly absurd to decry positive education among those who, unlike the lilies of the field, toil that we may live. The educated worker is a greater asset to the page 35 community and to the factory than he who is untaught. At Bourneville, in England, for instance, continuation classes materially aided the solution of many factory problems. The man who can think along independent lines is a more valuable asset than he who cannot so do. The possibility of any individual to adapt himself to new conditions, or different circumstances, is of manifold importance to the employer. Moreover, the worker who is able to think apart from work problems is often able to think more clearly of his work problems. Finally, it is axiomatic that the workman of to-day will graduate to the position of executive or administrative official to-morrow.

“By medicine life may be prolonged.”—Shakespeare. (Rly. Publicity photo.) The Ambulance Room at the Department's Workshops, Hutt Valley, Wellington.

“By medicine life may be prolonged.”—Shakespeare.
(Rly. Publicity photo.)
The Ambulance Room at the Department's Workshops, Hutt Valley, Wellington.

Such is, briefly, the position in regard to education. I believe that what I have said is the motive which caused the Railway Department to set up its Trade Schools. The apprentices, each of whom is considered as an ultimate official in embryo, are given a thorough technical training in respect to the section to which they belong. At no stage is the school divorced from work. Problems of the shops are brought into the school for solution; theory from the school room is put into practice in the shops. At the end of the apprenticeship period it can be said, without fear of contradiction, that the journeyman is well equipped to take his part in his department. He has the complete technical comprehension of his job. The rest is in his own hands. The system is designed to carry on the department without too much change in fundamental organisation, but allowing, within the department, freedom to develop along modern lines.

It will be obvious that the organisation of such a tremendous undertaking as the Railways cannot be made very often. Changes along lines of modern practice can, however, be introduced within the shop itself. For this reason the schools must be a powerful influence, as more of these specifically trained workers take places of major importance in the service. All indications warrant the platitude that “the man who has been through the mill knows most about it.” If these boys know workshop practice intimately, they must, in the final issue, be better executives, provided the other conditions of constructive thought and modern theory are not far behind.

In taking this line of thought the Railways are following what is virtually a practice in large factories elsewhere. Recently a German factory owner, in discussing training methods, told me that all the heads of the departments in his shops (employing just over a thousand hands), were trained in the firm's school. Specialisation was encouraged to such a degree that each foreman had an intimate knowledge of all factors relevant to his department. Similarly do we find page 36 specialisation in England and America. Specialisation in the higher branches of industry is helped by a background of general education. These requisites are fully appreciated here, and it seems evident that our development is along right lines.