The American Society of Safety Engineers Reflect on 100 Years of Protecting People, Property and the Environment
Des Plaines, IL (January 12, 2011) — In 1911, coffee prices were at 18.75 cents per pound, a first class U.S. stamp was $.02, and “ready-to-wear” trousers were the newest development on the men’s fashion scene. It was also the year the first airplane was landed on the USS Pennsylvania, stationed in San Francisco, CA, and the year the first Monte Carlo races were held. 1911 was also the year of one of the most recognized tragedies in the history of workplace safety and the beginning of a movement that would change the way the world viewed safety on-the-job.
The modern occupational safety and health movement began in 1911 after the horrific Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City, NY, March 25, 1911, where 146 garment workers were killed due to unsafe working conditions and inadequate fire escapes. Seven months later, in October of 1911, a small group of people gathered with the collective goal to reduce injuries and illnesses in the workplace and ensure that employees arrived home safely to their families each day. This group formed the United Society of Casualty Inspectors, now known as the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE). It grew steadily for the past 100 years and its members experienced some of the most pivotal times in American history as highlighted in ASSE’s new Celebrating 100 Years of Safety film, which can be viewed at www.asse.org/ASSECenturyofSafety. ASSE members work in all industries, including education, government, manufacturing, construction and technology, and are instrumental in helping businesses and the public, recognize the importance of being safe at work.
Prior to the formation of ASSE in 1911, workplace fatalities were prevalent and workers frequently suffered injuries and illnesses on the job. Children frequently worked dangerous jobs in coal mines and textile mills, and devices designed to protect workers, such as fall protection equipment, were virtually nonexistent. In a Professional Safety Journal article from 1961, titled, “Safety Engineering in a Changing World,” ASSE past-president John Grimaldi noted that until 1907, the accidental death rate in America was consistently increasing. By 1911, when ASSE was formed and the national safety movement began, the accidental death rate had begun to decrease and had dropped by more than 13%. Between 1911 and 1961, ASSE’s 50th anniversary, there had been a very clear, steady decline in workplace fatalities due, in part, to the rise of the safety profession and the importance of safety on the job.
During the first 50 years of ASSE’s existence, its members experienced the Great Depression, the development of the first television and flight of the first liquid-fueled rocket. Members also witnessed the birth of nuclear technology, which would significantly change global methods of producing energy and present new challenges for the safety professional in protecting workers. ASSE members also served during World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars. During that time, the profession continued to grow as a valuable part of business in all industries, including the military, manufacturing, education and government. In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the important Federal Highway Act into law, linking the country through news roads while creating new jobs. Safety professionals became an integral part of a new motoring public as the growth of the roadway system and use of automobiles presented new hazards for employees and the public.
From 1961 to the present, a technological boom occurred and safety took a new shape as computers and machine technology became more prominent and complex elements of the workplace. The Space Race dominated the 1960’s and ASSE members contributed by serving as experts on projects for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), helping to identify hazards and control risks in a realm of new discovery. In 1970, President Richard Nixon signed the Occupational Safety and Health Act, creating the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), dedicated to protecting worker safety and health in the U.S. . The birth of modern computing in the 1970’s forever changed the way business was conducted and has led to the rise of present-day safety concerns, such as ergonomics and sedentary occupational injuries and illnesses. During the 1980’s and 1990’s, the worldwide marketplace became seamless and technology became a bigger part of everyday life and in the workplace, with machinery becoming more powerful and more complex and developments in materials for manufacturing occurring at lightning speed. The beginning of the 21st Century has presented challenges such as new medical technology and the development of modern bionics, nanotechnology and the prevalence of synthetic chemicals used in many every day products.
The role of a safety professional is always evolving based on the needs of businesses and the nature of the ever-changing world. With each change to a business process, such as the addition of a new machine or chemical, comes the need for new safety procedures. As ASSE begins a journey into the next 100 years of protecting people, property and the environment, developments such as nanotechnology and advancements in nuclear power present new challenges for the safety professional in the role of protecting employees from the hazards of their work. ASSE continues to expand its reach globally, with new chapters in places such as the Philippines, Nigeria and the Middle East, and members continue to network and collaborate with others thousands of miles a way for the benefit of worker safety and health. For the next century of safety, the possibilities are endless and global ASSE community will continue to work toward the goal of zero lives lost on the job.
Founded in 1911, the Des Plaines, IL-based ASSE is the oldest professional safety society and is committed to protecting people, property and the environment. Its more than 32,000 occupational safety, health and environmental professional members lead, manage, supervise, research and consult on safety, health, transportation and environmental issues in all industries, government, labor, health care and education. For more information please go to www.asse.org. Go to www.asse.org/ASSECenturyofSafety to view the video.