102 years ago today, there was a tragic fire at a Triangle Waist Company factory in New York City. Because the factory lacked adequate escape routes and other safety measures, 146 people perished in the fire, almost a third of the employees.
In the aftermath of the fire, the company’s two owners were brought up on manslaughter charges but acquitted. However, they did later face a civil suit where they were eventually forced to pay out $75 per deceased victim.
The larger social consequence of the fire was a renewed focus on worker safety, led primarily by the labor movement. The New York State Legislature created Factory Investigating Commission to investigate working conditions and factories and to author reports that helped stir lawmakers to pass a spree of labor and worker safety reforms.
The labor movement and later the public interest community continued to make worker safety a priority, and, in 1970, the federal government created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to oversee the working conditions.
While OSHA and various other reform measures greatly improved conditions for workers, your right to be safe on the job is still far from ensured. In 2011, 4,609 workers died on the job; OSHA is so understaffed that its 2,200 inspectors are expected to oversee workplaces where 130 million Americans go to work.
And one way American-based corporations continue to deny their workers safe conditions is by shuttering factories here and moving overseas. For example, Wal-Mart was one major contractor at a garment factory in Bangladesh where a fire killed 112 people late last year. The company “reportedly decided against aiding factory upgrades that could have stopped fires like last month’s blaze at a Bangladesh garment factory.”
In New York City’s Greenwich Village today, numerous activists are holding events to mark the anniversary.