Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire Essay - Part 2

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

 

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The Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire was an event which held extreme relevance in American history.  On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out in the company’s factory located in New York.  The incident claimed the lives of more than a hundred workers, most of which were teenage women.  Hence, it was considered as the most tragic fire incident in New York.  However, the relevance of the event was not due to the number of casualties.  The relevance of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire was grounded on the safety and labor reforms that followed tragedy.

The tragedy occurred due to the poor and unsafe working environment in the factory.  The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was located on the ten-storey Asch Building in Manhattan’s Lower East Side and operated on the top three floors (Van Horn & Schaffner, 2003).  The working area of the factory was cramped.  More than 500 employees worked on the factory’s three floors.  On the ninth floor, there were 288 machines and 310 employees.  The machinery took up much of the space and served as a hindrance to the movement of workers.  The investigation report revealed that the greatest number of casualties occurred in the ninth floor.  Also, the working area was unclean.  Because it was a garment factory, there were pieces of cloth scattered on the floor.  This mess was the cause of the fire; according to Fire Marshall William Beers, the fire started on the eighth floor when a male worker disposed a match into a container under the table filled with excess fabric.  The factory lacked the elements necessary for fire prevention.  For instance, there were no fire extinguishers; the workers only had access to pails in case of fire.  There was also only a single fire exit, which was unable to accommodate the all workers during the fire because of its size and weight.  The fire exit was the only way of escape.  The supervisors of the factory kept all the exit doors locked in an effort to prevent theft and stop workers from leaving during their shifts.  In addition, the doors opened to the inside; this was the reason why the workers were crushed by the door when they tried to leave (Van Horn & Schaffner, 2003).  All these elements contributed to the tragic end of the factory fire incident.

There are many ways in which the loss of lives could have been avoided.  First, the incident would not have been tragic if the company provided a spacious and clutter-free working environment.  The placement of machines in the area should have been done with consideration to space.  Also, the supervisors should have guaranteed that the excess cloth was properly disposed.  The doors should have been kept open at all times, to allow easy exit in times of emergency.  Lastly, the owners should have provided the factory with complete fire prevention facilities and equipment.

The significance of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire lies in the safety and labor reforms which occurred as its outcome.  To begin with, The Factory Commission of 1911 was created in the aftermath of the tragedy (Yaz, n.d.).  The commission was instrumental in the establishment of a Fire Prevention Division of the Fire Department.  Also, the U.S. Department of Labor created a set of rules which became known as Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards.  These standards imposed regulations regarding working conditions.  For instance, legislature required that all workplaces must have many fire exits, unblocked exit doors and unobstructed escape routes.  Every building must have the necessary equipment for firefighting; laws required the installation of fire sprinklers and fire extinguishers.  The new laws also necessitated employee education and training; employees must know how to use fire extinguishers and must participate in fire drills (Yaz, n.d.).  Prior to the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, there were no such laws or regulations.  The reform based on the tragedy was not limited to safety concerns.  The factory fire also had the unionization of employees as a result (Van Horn & Schaffner, 2003).

The loss of lives in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire taught Americans an important lesson.  It was the pivotal occurrence which caused a wave of reform.  The incident allowed the passage of legislation directed towards workplace safety and employees’ rights.  Hence, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire proved to be a tragic but relevant event in American history.

 

References

Van Horn, C., & Schaffner, H. (2003). Work in America: An Encyclopedia of History, Policy and Society. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO.

Yaz, G. (n.d.). Leap for life, leap for death. California State University Northridge Web Site.  Retrieved May 8, 2009, from http://www.csun.edu/~ghy7463/mw2.html

 

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