LETTERS FROM RAMAZZINI by NICHOLAS GREY
Nicholas Grey has sustained a keen interest in occupational health and safety throughout his working life. In his retirement, he has written a book of tribute to Bernadino Ramazzini. The book is entitled Letters from Ramazzini and will be launched on the 300th Anniversary of his death: 5th November 2014. (see re-blogged article below).
Bernardino Ramazzini was born in Capri on 3rd November 1633. He studied medicine at the University of Padua where his interest in worked-related diseases started to develop. In his late 40s, he was appointed to the Chair of Theory of Medicine at the University of Modena (1682) and later served as Professor of Medicine at the University of Padua from 1700 until his death on the 5th November 1714 in Padua.
On his appointment to the University of Modena, Ramazzini began his seminal study of workers’ health problems in a systematic and scholarly way (Gochfeld, 2005). He visited workplaces, observed workers’ activities and discussed their illnesses with them. The medicine courses that he taught reflected this interest and were dedicated to the diseases of workers (Franco and Franco, 2001).
Ramazzini systematized the existing knowledge on work-related diseases and made a large personal contribution to the field by publishing his own observations in De Morbis Artificum Diatriba ~ Diseases of Workers. The first edition was published in 1700 in Modena and the second in 1713 in Padua. Both editions were written in Latin.
Each chapter of the De Morbis Artificum Diatriba contained a description of the disease associated with a particular work activity (or occupation) followed by analysis of the existing writings, a description of the place of work, questions to be put to the workers, descriptions of the disease, suggested remedies and advice. He covered 52 occupations. Significantly, Ramazzini realised that not all workers’ diseases were attributable to the physico-chemical work environment observing that a number of the common diseases suffered by workers appeared to be caused by prolonged, violent, and irregular motions and prolonged postures.
Ramazzini proposed that his fellow physicians should extend the list of questions that Hippocrates recommended they ask their patients by adding “What is your occupation?” (Gochfeld, 2005; Rom, 1983).
Largely on the basis of this work, Ramazzini is now often called “the father of occupational medicine” (Gochfeld, 2005; Franco and Franco, 2001; Rosen, 1993). Felton (1997) has argued that although Ramazzini’s the seminal work first appeared in 1700, it was through the English translation by Wilmer Cave Wright in 1940 and the subsequent scholarship of Pericle Di Pietro of Modena that it became widely known in the Western medical community.
Interestingly, in 1713, Ramazzini suggested that nuns developed breast cancer at a higher rate than married women because they did not engage in sexual intercourse and the “unnatural” lack of sexual activity caused instability of the breast tissues that sometimes developed into breast cancer (Olson, 2002).
Gochfeld, M. (2005) Chronologic history of occupational medicine. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 47, 96–114.
Felton, J.S. (1997) The heritage of Bernardino Ramazzini. Occupational Medicine, 47, 167-179.
Franco, G. and Franco, F. (2001) Bernardino Ramazzini: The Father of Occupational Medicine American Journal of Public Health, 91, 1382.
Rom W.N. (1983) The discipline of environmental and occupational medicine. In: Rom WN (ed) Environmental and Occupational Medicine. Boston: Little Brown & Co.
Rosen G. (1993) A History of Public Health. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Olson, J.S. (2002) Bathsheba’s Breast: Women, Cancer & History. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Nicholas Grey has sustained a vital interest in Occupational Health and Safety throughout his working life. So it is not surprising that in retirement he chose to write a book of tribute to Bernadino Ramazzini, the pioneering Italian physician who defined the field of Occupational Medicine.
The original text, in Latin, The Diseases of Working People was a groundbreaking text, addressed to physicians and asking them to consider the working life of their patients in making diagnoses and offering cures, remedies and means to ameliorate further harm caused in the workplace.
Nicholas Grey has now re-written this work in English iambic pentameter verse. It addresses workers as well as physicians. The collection concerns over fifty traditional fields of work characteristic of life in the 18thCentury. He is hoping this easily readable book will give more people access to this still valuable insight into the history of Occupational Health and Safety…
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