On March 25, 1911 the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in lower Manhattan caught fire, and 146 workers died while attempting to escape the burning building. This tragedy is recognized as the event that really started the workplace safety movement, and the ASSE is officially recognizing this important event.
It was discovered after this event that fire exit doors in the building were locked, and other escape doors were only able to open inward, which was impossible due to the large number of people pressing against them trying to get out. In addition, there was a fire escape on the ninth floor, which didn’t lead anywhere, leaving many stranded. Since the ladders and fire hoses of the day were unable to reach up to the top floors of the building, workers were stuck and many were forced to jump out windows in an attempt to escape the fire.
ASSE President, Tom Cecish, CSP, CIH, commented on this disaster saying,
“It was the deadliest industrial disaster in New York City history, but it did help begin our nation’s effort to address workplace safety in an organized way that had not existed. The fire led to legislation requiring improved factory safety standards. It also caused a concerned group of insurance company safety engineers to start what is now ASSE. The work of occupational safety and health professionals for over a century has contributed to dramatic drops in workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities.”
The ASSE was founded several months after this fire, in October of 1911. They have now grown into a global organization that has 37,000+ occupational safety and health professionals.
Cecish went on in his comments to say,
“Whether you work at a construction site, in a restaurant, or with students in a classroom, the lessons of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire never should be forgotten. Keeping our workplaces safe takes an unwavering commitment, and not just from safety professionals, but from everyone. There are always improvements to be pursued and exceptional ideas to be shared… We need to remind businesses and our legislators that our nation’s commitment to occupational safety and health systems and policies brings significant value to businesses and the well-being of the American people. Workplace safety not only saves lives, it decreases healthcare and workers’ compensation costs, reduces production delays and improves a company’s reputation.”
The lives lost in this tragedy should never be forgotten. They continue to serve as an example of preventable workplace deaths, and have spurred incredible action to help keep workers in America and around the world safer than ever before.
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