KENT, A. F. Stanley
26th March 1863 to 30th March 1958
Kent was a physiologist who did pioneering work on the functioning of the heart. He was also interested in industrial fatigue.
Kent was born on 26 March 1863 at Stratford Tony, Wiltshire, the son of a clergyman. He was educated at Magdalen College School and then Magdalen College, Oxford, from where he graduated with a second-class degree in physiology in 1886 (he received his DSc from Oxford in 1915). He lectured in physiology at the University of Manchester from 1887-9 and at Oxford from 1889-91.
From 1891-5 he lectured at St Thomas’s Hospital in London, where he also ran an experimental laboratory and did a great deal of work on the physiology of the heart. The results of his experiments were reported in a series of articles for the Journal of Physiology. This work made Kent’s name as one of the leading physiologists in the country. He had already been elected a member of the Physiology Society in 1887.
In 1899, still keeping up his connections with St Thomas’s, Kent became professor of physiology at University College Bristol. He played an important role in its transformation in the University of Bristol in 1909. Kent married Theodora Hobson in 1904.
As noted above, during the First World War Kent became interested in industrial fatigue. He advised the government on this issue: in what capacity is not entirely clear, but it would be surprising if he was not involved in some way with the Ministry of Munitions, where Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree, Robert Hyde and others were very much aware of the problem. Kent became editor-in-chief of the Journal of Industrial Hygiene.
In 1919 Kent wrote the introduction to an English translation of Jules Amar’s French work, The Physiology of Industrial Organisation and the Re-Employment of the Disabled. The preface to the original had been written by the noted French exponent of scientific management, Henry Le Chatelier. Like Amar and Le Chatelier, Kent wrote approvingly of scientific management, claiming it had given workers more leisure time and less tiring work. He praised particularly the work on time and motion study carried out by Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, and called for the same spirit of scientific inquiry to be applied to making it possible for disabled veterans of the war to return to work.
Kent retired from his official posts in 1922, but continued to conduct experiments in physiology during his retirement. He died in St Martin’s Hospital, Bath on 30 March 1958.
Kent’s lecture on industrial fatigue at the Scarborough conference is simple and is intended for an audience without any scientific background. He begins by comparing the human body to something with which all would be familiar, a steam engine. Both require fuel in order to work; equally, if both are to work effectively, they require maintenance. In a badly maintained steam engine, the fire burns low and the engine does not work as it should. Likewise, different kinds of fuel will generate more heat and produce higher performance. So it is with humans; they require fuel in the form of nourishment if they are to function. However, Kent says, it is not just a matter of consuming nourishment. People also need time to allow their food to digest properly – that is, rest and tranquillity – before they work, if they are to derive the full value from their nourishment.
"We all know how greatly the mental condition affects digestion. Pain, and grief, and worry – more particularly worry – may lead to acute and lasting indigestion, with consequent fatigue and loss of vigour. Unfriendly supervisors have been quoted as a cause of serious loss of output. Dazzling lights, improperly arranged, by straining and irritating the workers’ eyes, may lead to a mental condition incompatible with good digestion."
Noise and poor ventilation are also linked to fatigue.
The consequences of fatigue, says Kent, can be summed up in two words: it limits output. Fatigued workers work more slowly; this can be easily proven, he says, by looking at the output of workers who are working overtime. He talks in some detail about a study of the output of workers on overtime, and concludes that any attempt to get more out of workers by lengthening their hours is doomed to failure. He also links fatigue to the incidence of industrial accidents; tired workers are more likely to be the victims of accidents, or to cause them.
Kent concludes with a plea to employers to ensure their workers have enough time to rest:
"It should always be remembered that fatigue, and the recovery from fatigue, are parallel processes, that they accompany each other, and that by comparatively small adjustments the one, or the other, may be allowed to prevail. A rest period of a short duration may be enough to check the development of fatigue, and to encourage recovery, at a given point in a work period; later in the same period it may be found to be of little use. So complex is the mode of action of the human machine!"
‘Introduction’ to J. Amar, The Physiology of Industrial Organisation and the Re-Employment of the Disabled, 1919.