Risk & Business Magazine JGS Insurance Winter 2019 - Page 28

WORKPLACE SAFETY A BRIEF HISTORY OF SAFETY I n 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City caused the death of 146 garment workers. This was the deadliest industrial disaster ever in New York City and one of the deadliest in US history. The disaster led the state of New York to create the Factory Investigating Commission and to the founding of the American Society of Safety Professionals (formally known as the ASSE). The following is an excerpt from the leader of the Factory Investigation Commission six months after the fire: “A man may be killed by a tenement house as truly as by a club or gun. A man may be killed by a factory and the unsanitary conditions in it as surely as may be killed by a fire. It is not less true that the slaughter of men and women workers by the slow process of unsanitary and unhealthful conditions is not immoral and anti-social, but the state is beginning to declare that it is legally indefensible and therefore must, through carefully considered legislation, be made virtually impossible . . .. The so-called unavoidable or unpreventable accidents which, it is said, were once believed to be the result of the inscrutable decrees of Divine Providence [acts of God] are now seen to be the result in many cases of unscrupulous greed or human improvidence.” 28 In 1919, New York State adopted the commission recommendations to set safety and health rules administratively. The Factory Investigating Commission was a turning point in American attitudes toward social responsibility. These laws would serve as a model for other states. Twenty years later, the New Deal passed similar legislation at the federal level. The chemical industry was one of the main targets of the Commission. Their report stressed that “[i]n no other industry are perils to the body and dangers to the health of the workers so many, so insidious and so deadly.” While a knowledge of the poisonous products handled was necessary for workers, there was little attempt to teach workers the dangers of their jobs. Workers came in direct contact with lead, arsenic, phosphorus, mercury, injurious gasses, irritating dusts, high temperatures, hot and corrosive liquids, and dangerous explosives. Few factories even had fan driven ventilating systems Years later, the Manufacturers Chemical Association began publishing chemical safety data sheets, and the US Department of Labor published a series of profiles on dangerous chemicals. The modern material safety data sheet was developed later in the 1960's, and by 1987, all employers were required to provide information regarding the chemicals used in the workplace. In the 1930s, the construction industry norm was estimating one death for every million dollars spent on a project. However, the chief project engineer for the Golden Gate Bridge, Joseph Strauss, decided to do something about it. He implemented a rope-and-mesh safety net under the bridge roadway structure which saved the lives of 19 men, who were dubbed members of the “Halfway-to-Hell Club.” He also required workers to wear a new product that just started to become common—the hard hat. In addition, to prevent inhaling toxic fumes, riveters were required to wear respirators. Other industries such as manufacturing, railroads, and mining were also fraught with hazards. To avoid injuries, the only recourse workers had was to leave their dangerous jobs, purchase life and accident insurance, or set aside savings to offset the income risks from death or injury. In some cases, unions and fraternal organizations also offered their members insurance. In 1908, Congress passed a federal employers’ liability law that applied to interstate railroad workers. The law drastically increased the costs of work fatalities. Two years later, based on a European idea, New York became the