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At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, few laws existed to protect children from the harsh, and sometimes deadly, working conditions. Children were the ideal employee for working on the streets, factories, coal mines or domestic because their small size allowed them to maneuver easily in tight places. Child laborers needed money to support their families, so they did not complain about unfair wages and harsh working conditions.
Many children who lived in this era worked outdoors. According to Nettlesworth Primary School, some found employment as street cleaners, while others were street hawkers. The cleaners would sweep the muddy roads, cleaning horse manure and mud to make room for pedestrians and wagon drivers who would walk or ride through the town. The street sellers sold products, such as flowers, lace and muffins throughout the town, and other children found work in the countryside. For example, farmers would hire them as bird scarers, whose job it was to chase birds away from crops, protecting the farmers' livelihoods.
Many children worked long and grueling hours in unsafe factories, such as a match dipper. A child laborer in a match factory would dip matches into phosphorous, which is deadly if a large amount is inhaled. This chemical caused the children's teeth to rot and some even died from inhalation from phosphorous fumes. Another factory job children worked in were cotton mills. Mill owners took in orphans and took advantage of them. There was little to no time for any play time. Some of the children suffered serious injuries if they became fatigued, including scalping from machine.
Children were hired in the coal mines as trappers, where they would open a trap door by pulling on a string when they saw the coal carts coming. Older kids worked as coal bearers, carrying large baskets of coal on their backs. Later in life — if they lived that long — they suffered from a variety of lung ailments, even cancer. There were no workplace safety laws in place.
Although the British government outlawed the use of boys as chimney sweeps in 1832, owners of large houses continued to employ them. The typical sweep began his career as young as 5 years old. As a result, these children, suffered many cuts and wounds. Over time, constant exposure and inhalation of soot particles while chimney sweeping resulted in respiratory illnesses.