Obituary: Margaret Williams

Click to follow
An editor striding along Fleet Street with her cloak flowing had a profound influence on a specialist sphere of nursing - occupational health nursing; or, as the journal which Margaret Williams edited originally termed its readers, industrial nurses.

The workplace nurse was the product of enlightened employers - in 1842- 46 three owners of slate quarries in North Wales set up an occupational health service and the first recorded occupational health nurse was Jane Williams, matron of Penrhyn Quarry Hospital from 1858 to 1875.

As editor of Occupational Health, researcher and writer, Margaret Williams presided over the transformation of the nurse in industry from the first- aider to the pro-active occupational health nurse with an educational role for employers and employees which evolved into today's highly trained consultant concerned with the working environment of all staff, from cleaner to company director.

She came late to nursing at 27, having previously worked at Croydon aerodrome and Asprey's, the jewellers. She took her general nursing training at King's College Hospital, London, and part one of the qualification for a midwife. She went, however, immediately into industry, obtaining the industrial nursing certificate of the Royal College of Nursing in 1943. In 1950 she became the first qualified occupational health nursing tutor.

From 1947 to 1954 Williams was a member of the research and development team at Milton Antiseptics Ltd, working on irrigation envelopes for the treatment of burns. In 1959 she undertook an Occupational Health Section of the Royal College of Nursing survey of current surgical dressing techniques in industry.

Another study she carried out, published in 1981, was on counselling in occupational health nursing. She observed that it occupies 5 per cent of all time spent on occupational health work.

As the cobbler's children are the worse shod, so Britain's largest single workforce, in the National Health Service, had only a patchy workplace service. From 1971 to 1974 Williams, although herself suffering pain from osteoporosis, was technical officer to the occupational health survey team set up by the TUC Centenary Institute of Occupational Health to look at the care of the health of hospital staff. She had earlier been concerned with the RCN's memorandum, A Hospital Occupational Health Service (1964), which led to the Tunbridge committee on the subject.

In 1965 Williams was appointed editor of Occupational Health. When she visited nurses in the field they found the academic was a very practical nurse, helpful in her advice. As editor she encouraged others in her profession. Her own mentor, Irene Charley, a pioneer industrial nurse of the previous generation, taught her to accept nothing without question. This, the basis of her research, was the burden of her editorials, and, long after she retired in 1972, her prolific writing.

Laurence Dopson

May Margaret Durrant, nurse and editor: born London 21 May 1912; married 1956 Richard Williams; died Isleham, Cambridgeshire 18 February 1997.