Occupational safety and health became national news 110 years ago when the deadly Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire occurred in New York City. 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 COVID-19 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. Eastern time on Thursday, 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.
The factory fire in lower Manhattan killed 146 garment workers—most of them women as young as 14 years old—on March 25, 1911. 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 exist before the tragedy,” said ASSP President Deborah Roy, MPH, RN, COHN-S, CSP, CIT, FASSP, FAAOHN. “The horrific fire 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 what is now ASSP.”
From its inception in October 1911, ASSP has grown into a global membership organization of nearly 40,000 occupational safety and health professionals whose work through the decades has contributed to dramatic drops in workplace injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. However, the work of safety organizations, employers, and federal agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board is never complete.
“Whether you work at a construction site, in a restaurant or at a manufacturing plant, the lessons of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire never should be forgotten,” Roy 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.”
For more than 100 years, ASSP has been at the forefront of helping occupational safety and health professionals protect people and property. The nonprofit society is based in the Chicago suburb of Park Ridge, and its global membership of nearly 40,000 professionals covers all industries, developing safety and health management plans that prevent injuries, illnesses, and deaths. ASSP advances its members and the safety profession through education, advocacy, standards, and a professional community. Its flagship publication, Professional Safety, is a longtime leader in the field. Visit www.assp.org, and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.