A History of Safety

Throughout history, the safety and health movement has been impacted by legislation. In the following safety and health chronology, noteworthy events, individuals, and legislative action are set forth to illustrate the theme that the safety professional/practitioner is and has been a significant part of those preventive experiences making up the story of life.

The Ancient Chinese (c 2,500 BC) spread the risk of loss by placing 1/6 of their harvest on each of six boats traveling to the market.

Hammurabi (c 2,000 BC), ruler of Babylon, was responsible for the Code of Hammurabi, part of which bears resemblance to today’s workers’ compensation laws.

Ancient Egyptians (as early as 1600 BC) recognized the hazards of breathing the fumes produced by melting silver and gold.

Hippocrates (c 460-c 377 BC), the father of contemporary medicine, established a link between the respiratory problems of Greek stonecutters and the rock dust surrounding them.

In ancient Rome, the few slaves who survived the dangerous task of ship launching were given their freedom.

In 1601, the first English statute on “assurance” (an earlier term for insurance) was enacted. This statute covered marine risks.

In 1667, the Great Fire of London (September 2-7, 4666), caused the first English fire insurance laws to be enacted.

In 1700, Bernardino Ramazzini, an Italian physician, published the first thesis attempting to prove the connections between occupation and disease.

In 1730, Benjamin Franklin organized the first fire-fighting company in the United States as well as detecting lead poisoning symptoms with Dr. Evans.

In 1775, English doctors discovered that chimney sweeps, who were exposed to coal tar residues in their daily work, showed a higher incidence of cancer than did the general population.

In 1792, the first charter to write marine and fire insurance was granted in the United States.

In 1812, the Embargo of the War of 1812 spurred the development of the New England textile industry and the founding of factory mutual companies. These early insurance companies inspected properties for hazards and suggested loss control and prevention methods in order to secure low rates for their policyholders.

In 1864, The Pennsylvania Mine Safety Act (PMSA) was passed into law.

In 1864, North America’s first accident insurance policy was issued.

In 1867, the state of Massachusetts instituted the first government-sponsored factory inspection program.

In 1877, the state of Massachusetts passed a law requiring guarding for dangerous machinery, and took authority for enforcement of factory inspection programs.

In 1878, the first recorded call by a labor organization for federal occupational safety and health law is heard.

In 1896, an association to prevent fires and write codes and standards, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), was founded.

In 1902, the state of Maryland passed the first workers’ compensation law.

In 1904, the first attempt by a state government to force employers to compensate their employees for on-the-job injuries was overturned when the Supreme Court declared Maryland’s workers’ compensation law to be unconstitutional.

On March 21, 1911, in the Asch Building in New York City, nearly 150 women and young girls died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire because of locked fire exits and inadequate fire extinguishing systems. A major turning point in history, this fire changed regulation by the government and laws instituted to protect workers.

In 1911, a professional, technical organization responsible for developing safety codes for boilers and elevators, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) was founded. A17 Safety Code was published.

1911-1915, During this five-year period, 30 states passed workers’ compensation laws.

In October 14, 1911, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) was founded in New York City. Originally named the United Society of Casualty Inspectors. The ASSE was dedicated to the development of accident prevention techniques, and to the advancement of safety engineering as a profession.

California Railroad Commission, now known as the California Public Utilities Commission, ws created by constitutional amendment to oversee rail safety, including the safety of highway/rail crossings.

In 1912, a group of engineers representing insurance companies, industry, and government met in Milwaukee to exchange data on accident prevention. The organization formed at this meeting was to become the National Safety Council (NSC). (Today, the NSC carries on major safety campaigns for the general public, as well as assists industry in the development of safety promotion programs.)

In 1916, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of state workers’ compensation laws.

In 1918, the American Standards Association was founded. Responsible for the development of many voluntary safety standards, some of which are referenced into laws, today, it is now called the American National Standards Institute [ANSI].

In 1931 the Uniform Traffic Code was established because of the increase in speed and volume of motor vehicle traffic and accidents. The code consists of four separate acts: motor vehicle registration, driver licensing, automobile anti-theft and uniform traffic regulations.

In 1936, Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor, called for a federal occupational safety and health law. This action came a full 58 years after organized labor’s first recorded request for a law of this nature.

In 1936, the Walsh-Healey (Public Contracts) Act passed. This law required that all federal contracts be fulfilled in a healthful and safe working environment.

By 1948, all states (48 at the time) now had workers’ compensation laws.

In 1952, Coal Mine Safety Act (CMSA) was passed into law.

In 1960, specific safety standards were promulgated for the Walsh-Healey Act.

On Jan 3, 1961, an accident at an experimental nuclear reactor at a federal installation near Idaho Falls, ID kills three workers. These were the first deaths in U.S. nuclear reactor operations.

In 1966, the Metal and Nonmetallic Mines Safety Act (MNMSA) was passed.

In 1966, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and its sections, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), were established.

In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson called for a federal occupational safety and health law.

In 1969, the Construction Safety Act (CSA) was passed.

In 1969, the Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP) was established. This organization certifies practitioners in the safety profession.

In 1970, President Richard Nixon signed into law the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), thus creating the OSHA administration and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

In 1970, on January 1, the National Environmental Policy Act, (NEPA) was signed. This provided a national charter for protecting and improving the environment and created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

On May 29, 1971, the firast OSHA standards were adopted to provide a baseline for safety and health protection in American workplaces.

In 1972, the Consumers Product Safety Act (CPSA) was signed into law.

In 1976, The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) passed and became the instrument by which the management of hazardous waste is regulated.

In 1980, to address the issues of hazardous waste management, the Pollution Liability Insurance Association (PLIA) was formed.

Jan 16, 1981 OSHA updates business electrical standards to simplify compliance and adopt a performance approach.

1991 North Carolina Plant Fire kills 25 workers and 49 injured at the Imperial Chicken processing plant in Hamlet NC. The employees were trapped inside due to padlocked doors meant to keep vandals away.

Sep 11, 2001, 2886 work related fatalities including 537 rescue workers, resulted from terrorist attacks on the NY City World Trade Center, at the Pentagon, an on the planes that crashed.

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