There Are No Accidents: The Deadly Rise of Injury and Disaster―Who Profits and Who Pays the Price by Jessie Singer:
In 1920, the reforms took effect in New York. But the South Buffalo Railway Company, which was newly required to compensate employees for accidents on the job and also being sued by one of those employees for said compensation, appealed to the courts, claiming that workers’ compensation was unconstitutional under the state constitution. On March 24, 1911, the New York Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the company, overturning the commission’s reforms. The very next day, an accidental fire erupted inside the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in Manhattan. Women jumped to their death in the middle of the nation’s most populous city. For days, the unidentified charred bodies lay in public view. The Triangle fire was not just an accident of magnitude; it was an enormouse accident watched firsthand in real time by America’s elite and one whose aftermath played out at length in every American newspaper. Two months later, in Wisconsin, legislators would successfully pass the nation’s first workers’ compensation law, and nine other states would follow that year. New York State amended its constitution to again pass a workers’ compensation law in 1913. Forty-two of forty-eight states would have the law by 1920. In 1925, the five holdouts were all southern states. Mississippi came last, in 1948.
By the end of the First World War, in most of the United States, when a worker had an accident, employes were legally required to provide compensation for medical care and lost work. For employers, this was a massive shift in their economic calculus. Work accidents once cost only as much as replacing a worker. Now the only way for an employe to reduce costs was to reduce accidents. The decline in work accidents was dramatic. Over the next two decades, death per hour worked would fall by two-thirds. At U.S. Steel, in the first decade of the 1900s, once in four workers suffered significant injuries every year. By the late 1930s, that number was one in three hundred.