History behind OSHA

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Have you ever wondered why our workforce has safety standards? Why we are required to keep aisles leading to exits free of obstructions? What is your responsibility as a supervisor in reference to these standards? We learn through experience. Experience has taught us the importance of utilizing safety procedures, following rules to ensure a safe work environment in our workplace and to develop safe work habits.

One of the deadliest industrial disasters in U.S. history occurred in Manhattan, New York City, March 25, 1911. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, a factory that produced women’s blouses, caused the death of 146 workers. The owners of the factory locked the exits and doors to stairwells to prevent their workers from taking unauthorized breaks and mitigating theft. Despite their reasoning for this course of action, this proved to be both dangerous and detrimental to the smooth evacuation of its workers during emergencies and resulted in their demise. Workers could not escape from the building and many jumped from the windows of the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors. The Fire Marshal investigated the accident and determined that the probable cause of the fire was the disposal of an unextinguished match or cigarette butt in a scrap bin. That, combined with flammable hanging fabrics surrounding the scrap bin, likely caused the ignition.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire prompted conversations among political leaders. As a result, fire and safety regulations were formed and advanced standards were set forth. Over time, established legislations and regulations aided in the development of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s mission was to ensure the safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women. The act expressed the clear need for worker protection as the size of the workforce increased. It also authorized enforcement of standards, assisted and encouraged the States in efforts to assure safety and health, and provided research, info, education and training in the OSHA field.

As a supervisor, you are to ensure safety procedures are being applied during operations and safety preventive measures are being implemented when hazards arise. Ensuring the adequate clearance, space, layout, and arrangement of materials in aisles and passageways is vital to evacuation. The means of a safe and obstruction free evacuation is essential in any case of emergency where evacuation is expected. Air Force Instruction 91-203, Air Force Consolidated Occupational Safety Instruction, provides in-depth details and houses references. It also furnishes the mandatory requirements to ensure a safe work environment for our workforce. As a result of unfortunate events and grave losses, we have consistently established advanced safety protocol and used this platform to attack safety hazards from all angles. As the worlds’ greatest Air Force, we are constantly aiming towards an enhanced, healthy and positive workforce. Safety is the ultimate and recurring objective in regards to our primary missions.