Park Ridge, IL – Workplace safety and health became national news more than 100 years ago 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. The incident in lower Manhattan is still the deadliest industrial disaster in New York City history.
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). The organization remains dedicated to progressively advancing the safety and health of workers everywhere.
ASSP recently recognized this solemn anniversary by observing a moment of silence at 4:45 p.m. ET Saturday, 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. ASSP also released a new podcast that features a prominent author who discusses the far-reaching impact of the disaster.
“The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire inspired our country to address workplace safety in an organized way that didn’t previously exist,” said ASSP President Christine Sullivan, CSP, ARM. “The tragedy led to a series of laws and regulations that better protected workers. It also caused a concerned group of insurance company safety engineers to start an organization that is now ASSP.”
To recognize the nation’s legacy of reform and honor those who died, the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition is creating a memorial at the original site. It will be a lasting reminder of the need for workplace safety and the fundamental right of workers to be treated with dignity and respect. The main body of the stainless-steel memorial will be on a corner of the Brown Building, resembling a ribbon that descends from the 9th floor where most deaths occurred. It will evoke the appearance of mourning ribbons draped on buildings in times of public grief.
Twelve feet above the sidewalk, the memorial will split horizontally to flank the building’s facades, where the names and ages of the victims will be stenciled into the ribbon and appear in a reflective panel that runs below it.
ASSP contributed $32,519.11 to the memorial’s construction, stringing together the seven digits of the fire’s date (3/25/1911) to emphasize the significant moment in U.S. history. The ASSP Foundation donated an additional $25,000 to the project. The coalition expects to hold a dedication ceremony at the site this fall.
During the Triangle disaster, 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.
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 is never complete. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 5,000 people are fatally injured on the job each year.
“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,” Sullivan said. “Keeping our workplaces safe takes an unwavering commitment from all involved. There are always new ideas to be shared and advances to be made.”