“Industrial Disease” is a song by the British rock band Dire Straits, written by the band’s lead vocalist and guitarist, Mark Knopfler. It was released as the lead single from their fifth studio album, “Love over Gold,” in 1982. The song showcases Dire Straits’ signature blend of rock and blues with thought-provoking lyrics that touch on various social and economic issues related to the industrial world.
Industrial disease refers to a range of health conditions or illnesses that are caused or aggravated by factors present in the workplace environment. These diseases are typically associated with specific industries, occupational hazards, and exposures to harmful substances or conditions at work.
The “Industrial Disease” single has “Badges, Posters, Stickers, T-Shirts” for the B-side. The single reached #4 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. It was released on Vertigo Records and runs 4:17 in length. The album version runs 5:48.
Workers who are regularly exposed to certain hazards are at a higher risk of developing industrial diseases over time. Industrial diseases can vary significantly depending on the type of work and the substances or conditions workers are exposed to.
- Alan Clark – keyboards
- Hal Lindes – guitars
- John Illsley – bass
- Mark Knopfler – vocals, guitars
- Pick Withers – drums
Lyrically, “Industrial Disease” satirizes and critiques various aspects of modern industrial society, highlighting the struggles and absurdities faced by the working class and businesses. The song mentions several industrial ailments metaphorically, creating a humorous and biting commentary on the pitfalls of modern life, corporate culture, and government bureaucracy.
The title of what later became an AC/DC song is mentioned in the lyrics: “Thunderstruck.”
Some Common Examples of Industrial Disease
- Asbestosis: A lung disease caused by inhaling asbestos fibers, typically found in construction and shipbuilding industries.
- Silicosis: A lung disease resulting from inhalation of silica dust, common in industries like mining, construction, and foundry work.
- Occupational Noise: Induced Hearing Loss: Prolonged exposure to high noise levels in industries such as manufacturing, construction, and aviation can lead to hearing impairment.
- Mesothelioma: A rare form of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or heart, caused primarily by asbestos exposure.
- Black Lung Disease (Coal Worker’s Pneumoconiosis): A lung disease caused by the inhalation of coal dust, prevalent among coal miners.
- Occupational Dermatitis: Inflammatory skin conditions caused by exposure to irritants or allergens in various workplaces, such as manufacturing and healthcare.
- Occupational Asthma: Asthma triggered or worsened by workplace exposures, such as dust, chemicals, or fumes.
- Lead Poisoning: Exposure to lead in industries like battery manufacturing, construction, and painting can lead to lead poisoning with detrimental effects on various organs.
The song’s title, “Industrial Disease,” is a play on words, drawing a parallel between the literal industrial diseases faced by workers and the metaphorical ‘ailments’ affecting society due to industrialization and its consequences.
The lyrics contain clever wordplay and cultural references that add depth to the song’s critique.
Now warning lights are flashing down at quality control
Somebody threw a spanner and they threw him in the hole
There's rumors in the loading bay and anger in the town
Somebody blew the whistle and the walls came down
There's a meeting in the boardroom they're trying to trace the smell
There's leaking in the washroom there's a sneak in personnel
Somewhere in the corridors someone was heard to sneeze
Goodness me could this be industrial disease?
The caretaker was crucified for sleeping at his post
Refusing to be pacified it's him they blame the most
Watchdog got rabies the foreman's got fleas
Everyone's concerned about industrial disease
There's panic on the switchboard tongues in knots
Some come out for sympathy, some come out in spots
Some blame the management some the employees
Everybody knows it's the industrial disease
Yeah and the work force is disgusted downs tools and walks
Innocence is injured, experience just talks
Everyone seeks damages and everyone agrees
That these are 'classic symptoms of a monetary squeeze'
On ITV and BBC they talk about the curse
Philosophy is useless theology is worse
History boils over there's an economics freeze
Sociologists invent words that mean 'industrial disease'
Doctor Parkinson declared 'I'm not surprised to see you here
You've got smokers cough from smoking, brewer's droop from drinking beer
I don't know how you came to get the Betty Davis knees
But worst of all young man you've got industrial disease'
He wrote me a prescription he said 'you are depressed
But I'm glad you came to see me to get this off your chest
Come back and see me later - next patient please
Send in another victim of industrial disease haha'
I go down to speaker's corner I'm thunderstruck
They got free speech, tourists, police in trucks
Two men say they're Jesus, one of them must be wrong
There's a protest singer, he's singing a protest song - he says
'They want to have a war to keep their factories
They want to have a war to keep us on our knees
They want to have a war to stop us buying Japanese
They want to have a war to stop industrial disease
They're pointing out the enemy to keep you deaf and blind
They want to sap your energy incarcerate your mind
Give ya Rule Brittania, gassy beer, page three
Two weeks in Espana and Sunday striptease'
Meanwhile the first Jesus says 'I'd cure it soon
Abolish Monday mornings and Friday afternoons'
The other one's out on a hunger strike he's dying by degrees
How come Jesus gets industrial disease
The reference to “brewers droop” as a medical condition is an in-joke, referring both to the effect of alcohol on libido and to the band of the same name that Mark Knopfler played in prior to Dire Straits
Preventing industrial diseases involves implementing safety measures, providing protective equipment, and educating workers about potential hazards. Occupational health and safety regulations play a crucial role in safeguarding workers from harmful exposures.
- “Industrial Disease” Lyrics by Dire Straits. Genius. https://genius.com/Dire-straits-industrial-disease-lyrics
- “Industrial Disease” Song Review. AllMusic. https://www.allmusic.com/song/industrial-disease-mt0006791576
- “Dire Straits: Love over Gold” Album Review. Rolling Stone. https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-album-reviews/love-over-gold-100902/
- “Industrial Disease” Music Video. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GvqgVLzIulc
- National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). (2019). Workplace Safety and Health Topics: Occupational Respiratory Diseases. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/respdis.html
- U.S. Department of Labor. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). (n.d.). Safety and Health Topics: Occupational Noise Exposure. https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/noisehearingconservation/
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2018). Asbestos-Related Diseases. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/asbestos/default.html
- “Industrial Disease by Dire Straits” https://www.songfacts.com/facts/dire-straits/industrial-disease