Before history repeats, let’s apply safety lessons

UL Workplace Health and Safety’s evolution of safety timeline gives us a unique perspective into how catastrophic events and work-related deaths and injuries can be prevented when we make the effort to glean lessons from the past.

Looking back, we can see that prevention started long before there were regulations designed to protect workers from harm. For example, in 1700, the Italian physician Bernardino Ramazzini, the “father of occupational medicine,” advised physicians to ask patients about their occupation when diagnosing disease.

Today, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and other OH&S-oriented organizations have recommended making patient work information such as industry and occupation a permanent field in electronic health records (EHR) under provisions of the HITECH Act. Proponents believe the inclusion of occupational data will help inform medical decisions and improve individual patient care and public health surveillance activities.

When you look at the timeline, you’ll notice that our company, UL, was originally created to address the deaths, injuries and fires that occurred after industrial and domestic uses for electricity were introduced at the 1876 Chicago World’s Fair. Over the past 120 years, the company has evolved to promote safe living and working environments for people everywhere.

Turn the clock forward to the early 1900s and you’ll see deplorable working conditions for immigrant laborers in Chicago’s meat-packing plants, which Upton Sinclair described in his book, “The Jungle.” A public outcry led to the creation of laws and regulations for the food industry.

One of the most defining moments in workplace safety occurred in 1911 – the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in which 146 garment workers perished by fire, smoke inhalation or jumping to their death. Exit doors and stairwells in the plant were locked to prevent workers from pilfering garments that were being manufactured there. As “The Jungle” did for the meatpacking industry, this incident resulted in more stringent fire safety standards, as well as the creation of organized labor to drive improved working conditions.

That same year, the American Society of Safety Engineers was created. This organization, along with the National Safety Council that was formed in 1913, heighten awareness and brought more protection in the form of new laws and regulations, improved enforcement, engineering, construction improvements, technology and training.

Be sure to check out UL’s Safety Timeline and let me know what you think.