Tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Led to Workplace Safety Laws

In the early 20th century, states around the country began passing laws implementing workers compensation.

There were several sets of pressures being brought to bear on legislatures causing them to pass these laws.

Organized labor (primarily AFL in Oregon) was doing their best to persuade legislatures to pass workers compensation acts.

There was also an horrific workplace accident in New York City in 1911 that helped to put very significant pressure on legislatures to, at a minimum, pass workers compensation laws, and in a great many instances, to begin systematically looking at how to make workplaces safer and to require employers to make workplaces safer.

The Triangle Shirtwaist fire occurred on March 25, 1911. 146 people were killed. Of the 146, 123 were women and 23 were men. The oldest person killed was 43; the youngest were two 14 year old girls. The factory was on the 8th, 9th, and 10th floors of an office building. All exits were locked except for one elevator that held 8 people. The exits were locked because the owners were afraid that their workers would steal inventory.

Working conditions at the factory were deplorable. Employees worked 12 ½ hour days for $6 a week. This was a garment factory, and the workers had to supply their own needles, threads, irons, and sometimes even their own sewing machines.

I know that I have posted about the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in the past, but it is such a tragic event that we need to remember it.

The event galvanized people all over the country to begin improving working conditions with many, many reforms. Among those reforms were limitations on the number of hours worked per week, eliminating child labor, and requiring employers to have safer workplaces.

I’ve attached a link to a story on the History Channel website which documents how this tragedy led to the beginnings of safer workplaces with workplace safety laws. It is worth a read. CONTINUE READING…

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