Tragic event often change the psyche of a community or a nation (Nickam, 2003). In fact, tragic events often spur the government and other organizations into action. Specifically, the government and other organizations put in place preventive measures to limit the chances of the re-occurrence of such an event. Preventive measures include legislative efforts that highlight the behavior of individuals and firms within a particular environment. Indeed, the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire was a tragic event to New York and the entire American population. The fire highlighted the issue of the work environment and conditions in sweatshops across the country. The tragic incident prompted the state and federal governments into action and saw the introduction of laws and reforms geared towards improving workplace safety, recognition of employee rights and increased responsibility placed on employer regarding safety of the workers.
Prior to the Triangle Factory fire, the manufacturing industry in the United States was highly unregulated. In fact, entrepreneurs, whose primary and only motive was to maximize their profits, oppressed workers by ensuring that they worked for long hours, paying them minimum wage and providing squalid working conditions (Haddix, 2007). The poor regulation of manufacturing industry and all industries in entirety meant also contributed to the influx immigrant workers into the country who offered cheap labor and did not enjoy citizen right and privileges.
The incident in New York drew public anger and prompted the reaction of different bodies. First, the unions organized processions and demonstrations to commemorate the victims of the vicious fire. The unions’ reaction prompted the wealthy employers to commit funds to aid in the investigation of the cause of the Triangle fire tragedy (Cary & Scruthfield, n.d). Of course, the wealthy employers supported the unions mostly to ease the guilt as many people blamed them for the poor working conditions in different industries.
The lower class, some of whom worked in the industries, were the most vocal group after the fire. Of course, most of them were livid by the working conditions in the factories and probably had first-hand experience of the effect of the poor work environment. In fact, the protests by this segment of population initiated action at the District Attorney’s office in New York. In particular, the District Attorney opened charges against the owners of Triangle Shirtwaist Company, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, for negligence. Indeed, the action by the District Attorney indicated that the wealthy owners of the factories would be held responsible for their negligence of employee safety for the first time. Of course, the wealth co-owners put up a formidable defense but were required to pay seventy-five dollars for all the people that perished in the fire (Cary & Scruthfield, n.d). This judgment introduced a good precedent for employee compensation that influenced employee safety related legislation later in the century.
The New York state government also put in place several measures as a response to fire tragedy. First, the governor formed a commission whose main mandate was to investigate the measures that would help to prevent similar fire tragedies in future. Based on the report of the committee, New York introduced legislation targeted at fire safety for the first time in the state. The legislation outlined the requirements for fire safety in factories that included aspect such as mandatory alarm signals and fire drills and clearly identified fire escape exits in factories. The new legislation laid the basis for the introduction of the more comprehensive NFPA 101. The NFPA 101 engraved the issue of factory inspection and fire safety procedure and guidelines firmly into the law and served as a reference point for state and national legislation regarding fire safety in the United States.
Undeniably, the reaction of the three arms of government, executive, legislature and judiciary to the Triangle fire in New York laid an excellent basis for future legislation on workplace safety. The fire brought to the fore the dangers of sweatshops that led to the establishment of fire safety guidelines in that period. Although the reaction might have proved inadequate as wealthy entrepreneurs continued using immigrant workers devoid of knowledge of existence of such safety procedures, it was a step in the right direction and could have contributed to the current standards of safety today.
One of the major milestones in the workplace safety to emanate from the Triangle fire tragedy albeit indirectly, is the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). The bill, passed in the United States’ Congress in 1970 changed the perception and approach to safety at the work place. The bill placed the responsibility of safety on employers and introduced things such compensation for injuries sustained at the work place (Sinyai, 2011). Moreover, the bill required employers to inform employees about all hazards present at the work place and safety precautions taken to avoid any effects from such fires. Another very important aspect regarding OSHA is that it established national standards of workplace safety meaning that entrepreneurs could not simply move from one state to another to avoid punitive legislation on safety.
In addition, OSHA empowered employees meaning that they enjoyed the legal rights to sue their employers for negligence of safety and putting their lives in danger intentionally. OSHA remains one of the most formidable legislation regarding safety of employees at the work place to date. Indeed, all employers ensure that they meet the minimum requirements set in the bill otherwise the might face legal charges and withdrawal of business licenses. Conversely, the New York state instituted changes to the NFPA 101 in 2011. The main objective of reviewing the fire safety guidelines was aimed at ensuring that they matched modern places of work regarding certain things as architecture. Obviously, the architecture and plans for modern buildings have changed drastically compared to those one in early twentieth century, the time for the inception of the NFPA 101.
In conclusion, the Triangle fire tragedy remains etched in the minds of American citizens as one of the most disastrous events in their history. However, the event resulted in some positive changes to the work place where increased emphasis was placed of fire safety guidelines. Indeed, the then New York state government sprang into action that saw introduction of such things as fire drills, fire safety exits and alarm signals. Moreover, the actions by the New York state government spurred other state governments into action and culminated in the passage on the national bill on work place safety, OSHA. Indeed, the Triangle fire changed the course of history regarding safety at the work place, employees’ rights and employer’s responsibilities.
Cary, N & Scruthfield, L (n.d). About the Triangle Fire. Modern American Poetry. Retrieved from http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/m_r/pinsky/triangle.htm
Haddix, M.P (2007). Uprising. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster
Niknam, M. (2003). Lessons of 9/11. European Judaism, 36(1), 33-35
Sinyai, C. (2011). The Fire Last Time: Why we have unions : The lessons of the Triangle Shirtwaist catastrophe. Catholic New Times, 9.