We argue that industrial hazards have remained an integral feature of the international and ‘global’ economy since the early modern period, and invite historians of science into the study of their history. The growth and dissemination of knowledge about these hazards, as well as the production and trade that generate them, continue to generate deep inequalities in just who is exposed to them, as illustrated by the shifting impact of the asbestos-related disease plague in the past half-century. Exposure levels in poorer countries have risen as those in affluent societies have fallen, the latter due as much to popular protest and media exposure as to scientific expertise. We suggest that the best way to understand the formation of knowledge about these hazards is not to return to the epistemological battlegrounds of the ‘science wars’ of the 1990s but to seek more interdisciplinary integration of the multifaceted ways that material bodies, environments and interests contribute to an understanding of such hazards and injuries. We propose the framework of ‘industrial-hazard regimes’ as an avenue into the ways in which knowledge about risks and dangers at work are created, translated and contested in different countries and times. While urging a return, in some respects, to the early models of ‘progressive enlightenment’ devised by radical commentators and pioneering historians of the industrial hazard in the early twentieth century, we would revise these early approaches, and also offer some sceptical commentary on the difficulties raised, more recently, by narratives of ‘heroic populism’ or ‘anti-science epidemiology’. The critical standpoints for which we argue recognize the diverse social and political identities and loyalties not only of past contributors to the controversies on industrial hazard, but also of historians of science and medicine themselves.