Lives of the fellows

Robert Murray

b.10 October 1916 d.27 October 1998
OBE(1978) BSc Glasg(1937) MB ChB(1939) DPH(1947) DIH(1949) MRCPGlasg(1963) FRCPGlasg(1970) DTech Bradford(1977) FFOM RCPI(1977) MFOM RCP(1979) FFOM RCP(1980) DSc(1993) FRCP(1995)

As a medical inspector of factories and later as an adviser to the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and the International Labour Office (ILO), Robert ‘Bob’ Murray made a major contribution to occupational medicine. He qualified in medicine as the Second World War began and served in the RAMC from 1941 until early 1946, firstly in Nigeria and later seeing action in India and Burma. He was mentioned in despatches for his part in the ‘Chindits’ campaigns in Burma.

On his return to Britain he joined HM Medical Inspectors of Factories and spent ten years investigating cases, visiting work sites, lecturing in academic departments and participating in enforcement action to protect people at work. UK factory law at that time did not encompass mining (there was separate legislation), but Bob’s experience spanned all other major industries, including chemicals, engineering and textiles.

In 1956 Bob decided to widen his experience and took up an appointment in the occupational safety and health division of the International Labour Office in Geneva, later becoming a principal and counsellor. Although he had held a Rockefeller fellowship in the United States during his time as a medical inspector, it was the transfer to the international scene at the ILO which provided the opportunity for the full expression of his worth. Not only were his experiences and efforts widened to address occupational health problems in underdeveloped countries, but the work involved strategic as well as local measures of prevention. In this, his growing linguistic abilities were important. At international conferences Bob was frequently one of the few not needing his earphone link with the interpreters; he was able to converse with delegates from many countries and understand their problems.

At that time the ILO (the first specialized agency of the United Nations) was the major body setting standards to improve conditions of life and work through joint efforts of governments, managers and workers. Bob played a pivotal part in the development of formal instruments in the area of industrial health, many of which still stand as exemplars and are the fore-runners of similar later European legislation. During this time he travelled widely, gaining international respect from both sides of industry.

In 1962 he decided to return to the UK to take up the appointment of medical adviser to the Trades Union Congress, the fourth to hold that office and, notably, a successor to Sir Thomas Legge, whose principles he shared. Robert Murray and Sir Thomas were both medical inspectors, both made major contributions to the work of ILO and both were central to the later work of international commissions on occupational health. Bob spent twelve years at the TUC, important years in the events leading to the consolidated Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974 and the foundation of the Health and Safety Commission and Executive.

From 1975 and for the remainder of his professional life, Bob practised as a consultant in occupational medicine and was president of the International Commission on Occupational Health from 1981 to 1987. He was honoured by many awards from professional and academic bodies, and by the Order of the British Empire in 1978.

Aside from his professional distinctions, Robert Murray was a quiet man of great honesty and friendliness. My abiding memory is of first seeing Bob, on the steps of the United Nations building in Geneva, hands outstretched in greeting to a child running forward to meet him, followed by her father, a Scandinavian occupational physician, again meeting a respected senior professional colleague.

Ronald Owen

[Brit.med.J., 1999,318,130]

(Volume XI, page 409)

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