3 Key Milestones in Worker Safety
The Industrial Revolution brought many changes to the workplace that accelerated production but also increased the risk of injury and even death. Dangerous work conditions led to the creation of workplace safety laws that continue to shape working conditions today.
- Employers Liability Law
The Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) was passed in 1908 to protect railroad workers supporting the rapid expansion of the nation’s railway network. Under the law, employers could be held liable for worker injuries and death on the job. Employers were also required to compensate injured workers and their family members. However, employees were required to prove employer negligence to receive benefits.
- Workers’ Compensation
Workers’ compensation insurance was created in Germany in 1870 and spread across Europe in the late 19th century. The first comprehensive workers’ compensation law in the US was passed in Wisconsin in 1911. In 1948, workers’ compensation insurance was available in all states. The workers’ compensation system gave injured workers access to medical care and wage replacement benefits.
Today, workers’ compensation insurance is regulated at the state level and most employers are required to provide coverage.
- Safety Agencies
Throughout the 20th century, many government agencies and non-governmental organizations were established to monitor workplace safety and enforce compliance. The three main safety agencies in operation today are:
- The US Department of Labor (DOL)
The DOL offers resources and training for job seekers and retirees and sets wage standards. Its mission is “To foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.”
DOL oversees numerous offices, agencies, and program areas to fulfill its mission.
- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
Part of the DOL, OSHA was established in the 1970s to enforce the Occupational Safety and Health Act. OSHA sets workplace safety standards and enforces policies to keep employees safe and healthy. The administration also provides training, outreach, education, and signage to employers.
- The National Safety Council (NSC)
This non-governmental, non-profit, member-driven organization promotes health and safety by providing safety training, conducting research, and offering tools to mitigate risk. NSC also engages in government advocacy across national and local levels to drive awareness and create policies that support workplace safety.