Workplace safety and health became national news more than 100 years ago this month when the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City led to the deaths of 146 garment workers – most of them women as young as 14 years old – on March 25, 1911.
A few months after the tragedy came the creation of the world’s oldest professional safety organization – the United Association of Casualty Inspectors now known as the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) – a group that remains dedicated to progressively advancing the safety and health of workers everywhere, especially during the global pandemic.
ASSP encourages all companies and their workers to join the Society in recognizing this anniversary by observing a moment of silence at 4:45 p.m. ET on Friday, March 25 – the exact time the first alarm was sounded – to pay tribute to the workers who died in the fire while also refocusing on creating safe work environments. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 5,000 people are fatally injured on the job each year.
During the Triangle fire in lower Manhattan, fire exit doors were locked and other doors only opened inward, making it impossible for the onrush of workers to get out. The fire escape was poorly constructed and didn’t meet weight requirements. Fire department ladders couldn’t reach the upper floors of the 10-story building. Many workers died by jumping out of windows and into an elevator shaft as they fought to escape the flames.
“The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire was the deadliest industrial disaster in New York City history, and it inspired our country to address workplace safety in an organized way that didn’t previously exist,” said ASSP President Brad Giles, P.E., CSP, STS, FASSP, GIOSH. “The tragedy led to a series of laws and regulations that improved workplace safety. It also caused a concerned group of insurance company safety engineers to start an organization that is now ASSP.”
From its inception on Oct. 14, 1911, ASSP has grown into a global membership organization of 36,000 occupational safety and health professionals whose efforts reduce workplace injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. But the work of safety organizations, employers, and federal agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is never complete.
“Whether you work at a construction site, in a restaurant, at a manufacturing plant, or in a mine, the lessons of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire should never be forgotten,” Giles said. “Keeping our workplaces safe takes an unwavering commitment from all involved. There are always advances to be made and new ideas to be shared.”