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OM in the News: Workplace Safety and OSHA

December 22, 2014

When a fire broke out in 1911 at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York, 146 workers died. Many jumped from windows because the doors that could have saved their lives were locked to stop them from stealing. “In the ensuing century, workplaces have been transformed,” writes BusinessWeek (Dec. 14, 2014). Since Congress created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in 1970, the U.S. workplace death rate has dropped 81 percent, saving half a million lives. Economic and technological changes have swept workers out of the most deadly jobs and into comparatively safer ones. New state and federal standards have outlawed corner-cutting that formerly killed employees, imposing costs on companies that don’t comply.

workplace safetyStill, deaths from workplace injuries in the U.S. averaged 13 a day in 2012, and the number of work-related deaths—counting illnesses such as lung cancer—may be 10 times as large. Work can be far more lethal in developing countries; witness the April 2013 collapse of a facility housing garment factories in Bangladesh, which killed eight times the number who died in the Triangle fire. In many parts of the world, workplace safety is an idea whose time is yet to come.

Classroom discussion questions:
1. Why is this an OM issue?

2. What is the relationship between ergonomics and workplace safety?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. terry boardman permalink
    December 22, 2014 1:26 pm

    “Still, deaths from workplace injuries in the U.S. averaged 13 a day in 2012, and the number of work-related deaths—counting illnesses such as lung cancer—may be 10 times as large.”

    The above comment is one I point out to my students as problematic in its hyperbole and overreaching. The average of 13 a day is relevent and should be digested but then Businessweek mucks up the point with a comment on “lung cancer” and “10 times”, it makes the whole article subjective. The magazine should stick to the facts as known- 13- and save lung cancer and 10 times whatever for a different article.

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