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The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and Days of Less Workplace Safety

As we approach the 100-year anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, it is a great time to give pause and remember the countless deaths that occurred in New York's days of few workplace regulations. Men, women and even children - many of them immigrants - endured horrific sweatshop conditions where they risked life and limb each day to bring home meager earnings.

It was under these hazardous jobsite conditions that 146 people lost their lives on March 25, 1911. On that day, more than 600 people worked in the Triangle Waist Company factory in Manhattan busily making women's clothing. A discarded cigarette or match quickly caused a blaze after coming into contact with scraps of flammable cotton fabric.

Many workers needlessly died in the blaze, as they were obstructed from fleeing the fire because many of the factory doors remained locked during the workday. The tragedy is the worst industrial workplace accident New York City has ever experienced.

It would be an insult to all those people who have died in the Triangle Fire (and other New York factories) for the norm of deadly workplaces to continue. In the days following the Triangle Fire, many workers unified to gain leverage in improving jobsite conditions. The fire also spurred New York's passage of the most stringent fire-safety laws in the country.

There's Still Room for Improvement

While legislation, powerful labor unions and modern technology have played important roles in reducing workplace fatalities and serious injuries, there are still far too many deadly work accidents. While laws and unions work toward making New York employees safer in their vocations, ultimately the safety of workers falls upon the employer.

Sources:, "'Triangle Fire' kicks off month marking 100th anniversary of NYC disaster," 2/28/2011;, "Triangle fire galvanized labor unions," 2/17/2011

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