Joy Bivins
Joy Bivins
Curator
Chicago History Museum

How do you protect workers in dangerous occupations?

Working isn’t easy for anyone, but some jobs can be dangerous. In most industries where workers physical health is at risk, “safety first” is the motto they live by. Factories from car plants to steel mills have implemented comprehensive employee safety training and standards. This hasn’t always been the case. In the past, there was little government regulation of places of work. Technology, new laws, and societal expectations have evolved to make work safer in the United States.

In the first half of the 1900s, workers in some industries made great strides in securing certain protections by forming unions and negotiating new contacts. For instance, meatpacking went from being a dangerous job to one where new safety measures were developed and put into action.

The government has also had a part in improving safety for American workers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (known as OSHA) was formed in 1970 to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for working people by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.  Despite these strides, deadly accidents still occur, such as the coal mining disaster in the Sago Mine in West Virginia in 2006, where 12 miners lost their lives. Sometimes OSHA fines companies for not following safety rules and regulations. Sometimes, workers make mistakes that lead to accidents.

Why do you think worker safety continues to be such a challenge even today?  What are ways citizens should be protected while at work? Share your thoughts and ideas. I look forward to hearing what you have to say.

Discussion closed on March 12, 2012