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Triangle Factory Fire paves way for modern workplace safety

In America, workers who suffer a workplace injury are entitled to workers' compensation benefits. Employers are expected to maintain safe working environments according to federal standards.

But that was not always the case. Today marks the 100-year anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that prompted the fight for safer working conditions for workers across the nation.

To this day, no one really knows exactly how the fire was started; some believe it was because of a cigarette or match. But the fire grew quickly, fed by the fabric in the building. Within the 10-story building, hundreds of young female workers tried to escape by running down the narrow stairwell or going down in elevators. But many found themselves trapped.

Those in the crowd nearby told horrific stories of girls trying to escape by jumping to their death. Others who remained inside were slowly being burned alive. Firefighters tried to rescue the girls but their equipment did not reach floors higher than the 6th floor.

The aftermath was equally devastating. There were 146 workers killed that day. An investigation following the tragedy found that there were no safety protocols in place in case of a fire, there was no sprinkler system, buckets of oil were on the floor, and exits were blocked. In addition, the factory was crammed and poorly designed making it difficult for movement.

The factory fire shocked the community into action, paving the way for a movement that set out to reform labor laws and create safer working environments for workers.

Now, workers injured-on-the-job can be compensated for their injuries. In addition, employers must follow a federal standard of health and safety, to ensure safer work environments.

Source: CNN online, "Remembering the Triangle Fire 100 years later," Allan Chernoff, 25 March 2011

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