Factory Acts. The word factory, according to the original Factory Act (7 Vic, c. 15), means all buildings wherein steam, water, or other mechanical power is used to work any machinery employed in the manufacture of cotton, wool, hair, silk, flax, hemp, jute, or tow.
The Legislature has interfered to prevent children in factories being tasked beyond their strength to the permanent injury of their constitutions. This abuse was the more to be dreaded because a large number of the children engaged in cotton-spinning were not directly employed by the masters, but were under the control of the spinners, a highly-paid class of workmen, whose earnings depended greatly upon the length of time during which they could keep their young assistants at work.
As early as the year 1832 a parliamentary committee sat for the investigation of this subject, and subsequently a commission was issued by the Crown for ascertaining by examination at the factories themselves the nature and extent of the abuses which prevailed, and for suggesting the proper remedies.
The following is a short enumeration of the important recent Acts of Parliament which have been passed, and under which factories are now regulated and controlled, and their several objects. The "Factory and Workshop Act, 1878," contains 107 sections and 6 schedules, and consolidates, with a few amendments, the seventeen preceding Acts, commencing with that known as "Addington's Act," passed in the 42nd year of the reign of George III., up to the 37th and 38th Victoria (the "Factory Act, 1874"). By these several statutes the labour of women, young persons, and children has from time to time been regulated, the education of children indirectly obtained, and the fencing of machinery prescribed. This Act was amended as to white-lead factories and bakehouses by the "Factory and Workshop Act, 1883," and generally by the "Factory and Workshop Acts, 1891 and 1895." By these latter Acts the powers of factory inspectors are increased, means of escape from fire are directed to be provided, and the employment of children under eleven years of age, and of women within four weeks after childbirth, is prohibited. Moreover, by section 24 ('91 Act) weavers in the cotton, worsted, or woollen, or linen, or jute trade, if paid by the piece, are entitled to have supplied to them "particulars to enable them to ascertain the rate of wages at which they are entitled to be paid." The use of steam whistles for summoning or dismissing factory hands requires the sanction of local authorities by 35 and 36 Vic, c. 61.