For most of us, the site of the Great Wall of China, the Cathedrals of London, or the majestic sky scrapers of New York City, even from the vantage point provided by a post card, inspires awe. What we tend to forget is that for hundreds of years these structures were erected at profound human cost. Modern technological advances in safety, such as lifting chains, crane service, and fall protection equipment, were not available throughout most of history. Even if they had been, governmental oversight has been weak historically, and construction safety training was a cost that most companies had little motivation to pay for. It took the United States until the 19th century, when a group of young women died terrible deaths during the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, to reckon with unsafe working conditions and the laissez-faire capitalism that permitted them. Slowly but surely, the deceptively named “Progressive Era” gave way to a more tempered, government regulated era of doing business.
One of the direct legacies of this nation wide safety reckoning was the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA. Founded in 1971, its stated mission is to ensure safe working conditions for employed men and women. In the modern construction industry, OSHA plays its part by conducting equipment inspections on randomly selected companies, making sure vital fall protection courses and appropriate lifting chains and gear are provided to workers. (OSHA’s guidelines are strict, requiring that fall protection be provided at elevations of six feet or higher in the construction industry.)
When OSHA is not playing an active role in ensuring good training and mandating lifting chains and other rigging supplies, they are keeping safety statistics. Construction workers are under particular scrutiny since, according to OSHA, at least 1,000 construction workers suffer from injury on the job every year. The good news is, the oversight seems to be working. The number of badly injured construction workers has decreased by approximately 200 people between 2008 to 2013, and worker injuries and illnesses across all industries are down in general. It is difficult, in this case, not to see causation in the correlation of increased government oversight. OSHA and the construction companies who work with them in good faith are doing exceptional work, and will hopefully continue to lead America into a brighter, safer economic future.