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Hundred-Year Anniversary of Factory Accident That Led to Workers’ Compensation Reform

Last month, Atlanta workers compensation lawyers marked the 100th anniversary of the deadly Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire that killed 146 workers, and sparked a public outcry, ultimately resulting in Workers’ Compensation reform and more rights for workers. Injuries to workers was very common in this time period. However, it took a workplace tragedy to spur reform.

The accident occurred on March 25, 1911, as workers, mainly tailors and seamstresses, at the factory were about to head home for the day.Many of them never made it out.The building was already on fire, and most of the women, mainly young immigrants, were trapped inside the building.

Shockingly, the doors had been locked, and many of the victims died trying to force them open.Some had no choice, but to jump out of the windows.The horrors inside the building were only matched by the incompetence outside.Firefighters rushed to the scene, but quickly found that their hoses would reach only the sixth floor of the Asch Building, which housed the factory on the 8th, 9th and 10th floors.Firefighters were left with no other choice, but to form human chains to reach the higher floors, and use nets to catch those who desperately jumped out the windows.Most of these efforts were unsuccessful.After the tragedy, the factory owners were indicted for manslaughter, but were soon acquitted.

It was this tragedy that set the tone for compensation for workers after an accident, and ultimately workers’ compensation, as we know it.Unions demanded change and more safety regulations.The Factory Investigation Commission was set up, and soon after, the New York legislature enacted 36 statutes to regulate workplace safety, paving the way for the Workers’ Compensation Act.