16th July 1888 to 1st January 1970


Biographical Text

Farmer was born in Northampton in 1888. He read moral sciences at Trinity College Cambridge, graduating in 1914, and then studied psychology under the tutelage of C.S. Myers. He joined the Industrial Fatigue Research Board as an investigator in 1919. From 1935-53 he was reader in industrial psychology at the University of Cambridge, holding a post financed by the Medical Research Council.  

Farmer is best known for his work on industrial accidents, and was the first researcher to identify that some people are ‘accident prone’. Once a person has had an accident, Farmer argued, they are much more likely to have a similar accident again. His work influenced understanding of how and why accidents occur. He was also interested in scientific management, and wrote a widely praised book on time and motion study. It was this work that caught the attention of the Rowntree conference organisers and led to him being invited to lecture twice, in 1922 and 1926. Farmer’s attempt to marry industrial psychology and scientific management is interesting, if not wholly convincing. 

Major works 

Time and Motion Study, 1921. 

‘The Economy of Human Effort in Industry’, 1922. 

‘The Method of Grouping by Differential Tests in Relation to Accident Proneness’, 1926. 

The Causes of Accidents, 1932. 


Burnham, J.C., Accident Prone: A History of Technology, Psychology and Misfits of the Machine Age, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009. 

Harrison, H.D., Industrial Psychology and the Production of Wealth, New York: Dodd, Mead, 1925. 

Original Source

Lectures: ‘The psychological aspect in industry’, April 1922, Balliol College
‘The practical uses of time study’, September 1926, Balliol College.


“FARMER, Eric,” The Rowntree Business Lectures and the Interwar British Management Movement, accessed July 16, 2020,