Crystal Catherine Eastman (1881-1928) was an American sociologist and lawyer, who advocated for women's rights, and for occupational safety and health. She co-drafted the first workers' compensation law and co-wrote the Equal Rights Amendment.
Promoting Workplace Safety: Recommendations for Accident Prevention in the 1910 Pittsburgh Survey
In the 1910 report “Work-accidents and the Law – The Pittsburgh Survey”, Eastman gave suggestions for preventing work accidents. For the prevention of fatal accidents, she suggested providing safety measures in the construction and plan of work, not employing children, conducting regular inspections, and ensuring competence and care among superintendents and foremen. She argued that employers should prioritize accident prevention throughout all stages of operation. Regarding accidents which were seen as caused by workmen or their colleagues, she suggested establishing minimum requirements for age, experience, and physical fitness in dangerous occupations. She also highlighted the role of employers in promoting safety attitudes and creating an environment that discourages recklessness. Other factors contributing to accidents, according to Eastman, were long working hours, high speed, and lack of instruction for inexperienced workers. She proposed direct legislative measures, improved factory acts, safety requirements, and thorough inspections to prevent accidents. She criticized the insufficient enforcement of existing laws and the lack of comprehensive attempts to address safety hazards. She concluded that effective prevention requires the employer's commitment, rigorous prosecution of violators, and public support for protective legislation.
The Role of Publicizing Violations in Ensuring Workplace Safety
Eastman argued that publicizing violations and prosecutions is crucial for deterring employers from breaking the law and ensuring the integrity of inspection staff. She criticized the Pennsylvania State Department of Factory Inspection for concealing violations in its reports and highlighted the positive impact of publicizing prosecutions in other jurisdictions. She also noted that while certain measures can be enforced by law, many details of safety management depend on the employer's will and expertise. She highlighted a growing trend of safety inspections by large companies and the appointment of committees dedicated to preventing accidents. She suggested that an effective public opinion could develop more quickly if a complete report of all accidents were required. She criticized the existing reporting system in Pennsylvania, which failed to capture the full extent of work accidents.
Strengthening Accountability and Enhancing Workplace Safety Measures
Eastman discussed the ineffectiveness of coroner's inquests in preventing industrial accidents and suggests ways to make them more useful. She highlighted the shortcomings of the coroner inquest system, where most cases are quickly concluded with a verdict of "accidental" without proper investigation. The jurors chosen for the inquests lacked expertise and were often unqualified. The inquests only offered two verdict options: "accidental" or "murder," making it difficult to hold employers accountable for negligence. To make coroner's inquests more effective, Eastman proposed several suggestions. First, she suggested forming intelligent juries consisting of industry professionals who could provide valuable recommendations to employers for improving workplace safety. Additionally, she suggested establishing a voluntary safety committee of citizens to follow up on these recommendations and urge employers to implement them. The coroner would also be required to issue official statements about accident inquests, including the employer's name, the nature of the accident, and the recommendations made. Publishing these statements regularly in newspapers would provide reliable information to the public and stimulate public opinion on the issue of accidents. Eastman argued that by creating public pressure and holding employers accountable, a change in mindset could be fostered, leading to a greater emphasis on accident prevention. She proposed that accidents should become a direct and unavoidable cost to businesses, with penalties proportional to the number of deaths and injuries. By aligning economic interests with safety, employers would have a stronger incentive to prevent accidents. Eastman acknowledged that despite these measures, the primary motive for employers will always be production, but by implementing these changes, the protection of workers' lives can be improved. Eastman also mentioned the argument that competition in the industry may undermine the effectiveness of these measures. Eastman stated that democracy has the potential to address these issues by applying various forces to influence employers' motives, rather than accepting that the state of industry will inevitably result in the widespread destruction of workers.
Accident Prevention as a Social and Economic Imperative
Eastman argued that her findings justify legislative intervention. Firstly, the ongoing occurrence of preventable work accidents was not only unjust to the victims but also a substantial social waste. Secondly, the distribution of the accident loss, which predominantly affected the injured workers and their families, posed a burden on the community and hampered its prosperity. The individual hardships described, such as children being deprived of proper growth and education, families struggling with the loss of income providers, and mothers facing increased responsibilities, represent social losses. Every disabled breadwinner, enduring prolonged sickness and financial difficulties, becomes a burden on society. Thus, a law that places the entire economic burden of work accidents on the workers not only unjustly affects them but also worsens their deprivation beyond what is necessary.
Eastman, C. (1910) Work-Accidents and the Law. The Pittsburgh Survey. New York: Russell Sage Foundation Publications. (https://www.russellsage.org/sites/default/files/Eastman%26Kellog_Work Accidents_0.pdf)