Safety First Movement

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SAFETY FIRST MOVEMENT, a twentieth-century movement to reduce workplace hazards. Severe accidents were common—and much higher than in Europe—in the large industries of the nineteenth century. In 1877, Massachusetts pioneered in the establishment of factory safeguards and, in 1886, in the reporting of accidents. By the 1920s, nearly all states had workmen's compensation laws. In response, a number of large corporations launched safety programs, redesigned their equipment and workplace, sought to change workers' attitudes, and beefed up regulations for foremen and employees. Some, for instance the steel industry, made huge strides; after a stunningly high rate of industrial injury during 1907–1908, the industry cut accident rates to one-sixth within a decade or so.

A number of national, international, and govern-mental bodies began promoting safety in industry. The Iron and Steel Engineers' Association studied the safety problem in 1911 and in 1913 organized the National Safety Council, chartered by Congress in 1953, which carries on research in the development and standardization of safety methods and devices and collects and disseminates data pertaining to safety activities. The American Standards Association promulgates safety codes that are used by increasing numbers of administrative bodies. Though safety increased in some large industries, however, others—for instance, meatpacking—remained dangerous. Furthermore, the twenty-first century opened with a near epidemic of computer-related workplace injuries.


Aldrich, Mark. Safety First: Technology, Labor, and Business in the Building of American Work Safety, 1870–1939. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.

Mogensen, Vernon L. Office Politics: Computers, Labor, and the Fight for Safety and Health. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1996.

Joseph H.Foth/d. b.

See alsoIndustrial Management ; Medicine, Occupational ; Workers' Compensation .