Workplace safety must evolve to protect labor

March 26, 2014

The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire occurred 103 years ago, and the event continues to serve as a reminder of the need for workplace safety laws. One of the deadliest industrial disasters in New York City history, the incident took the lives of 146 garment workers who perished because of blocked fire escapes. The demand for fair wages and workers’ protections increased in the aftermath of the tragedy, inciting a movement for improved labor standards. Despite the victories that have been made in the past century, threats to proper working conditions still exist.

Avoiding safety hazards in the workplace is a collective effort that needs to involve employers, employees and the government. Employees need to unionize. Since the 1950s, the number of workers in unions has declined greatly. By banding together, workers are able to effectively argue for safer working conditions. To ensure employee safety, companies have to commit to regularly investigating working conditions and fixing potential hazards. The government must enforce these measures and ensure employers are following protocol.

Workplace mistreatment is particularly common among the politically disenfranchised, such as undocumented immigrants and migrant workers. Without legal protection, they suffer inhumane working conditions, and cases of mistreatment appear all over the world.

Given that industry in the United States is constantly using new methods and technologies, it is important that safety standards are maintained and updated. In the past few years, explosions at a Texas fertilizer plant, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig and a West Virginia coal mine have killed 54 workers total and injured hundreds more. All of the sites involved in these accidents had histories of safety violations that companies often ignored. As new technologies develop, it is vital not only that safety practices remain satisfactory, but also that regulations are constantly improved to reflect any new risks.

If we are to serve the memory of those who died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, we must pressure employers to conform to domestic and international regulations. Notably, the area where the tragedy occurred ultimately became the university’s Brown Building, part of the Silver Building block. Furthermore, former WSN Features Editor Kristina Bogos highlighted some of the poor working conditions on our Abu Dhabi campus in a PolicyMic article on March 20. As such, we must also look inward and seriously question the working conditions for those building our classrooms in Abu Dhabi. Bogos called for the NYU community to object to the poor working conditions in Abu Dhabi. We reiterate both that appeal and the general need for employees to demand fair conditions from their employers.

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, March 25 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at editboard@nyunews.com. 

*Correction: A previous version of this article identified undocumented immigrants as illegal immigrants. The story has been updated to include the appropriate term.

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