The Three Essentials for Accident Prevention
Crystal Eastman, during her time as Secretary of the New York Commission on Employers' Liability and Causes of Industrial Accidents, Unemployment, and Lack of Farm Labor, expressed her concern and frustration with the response to industrial accidents and workplace safety issues.
Eastman wrote a paper in which she criticized the charitable relief efforts and the Red Cross's involvement in helping victims of workplace accidents. She questioned the focus on compensation for victims when in her view many accidents were preventable and could be avoided with proper safety measures.
In accurate information and statistics about the accidents that occur, Eastman saw the key to preventing workplace accidents. She recommended to implement a system in which employers are required to report all workplace accidents to their employees. She cited Minnesota's success in implementing such a law and the significant increase in reported accidents. She also highlighted the problem of underreporting accidents, citing cases in which many accidents went unreported, especially those occurring in occupations not covered by existing reporting laws.
A dedicated department needs to be responsible for enforcing accident prevention laws, according to Eastman, and she called for adequate funding and power for such a department. She criticized the low fines and the ineffective enforcement of safety laws in New York, suggesting the need for stricter penalties and more robust enforcement.
She also recommended a new system of liability - worker's compensation - to promote accident prevention in the workplace. She suggested that this system would make employers directly accountable for the costs of accidents, encouraging them to prioritize safety. Eastman argued that employers must realize that accidents have a direct and measurable impact on production costs. Under a worker's compensation system, the economic incentive for employers would be to reduce accidents, as the cost of insuring against them would be high. This would lead employers to actively cooperate with labor departments in implementing safety measures.
Finally, Eastman stressed the importance of involving both employers and workers in promoting safety. Workers would be motivated to protect themselves and their colleagues, as “carelessness” would result in penalties. This system would create a culture of safety in the workplace, Eastman suggested:
“(…) the all-important thing in accident prevention is to let the economic necessity of reducing accidents enter effectively into the calculations of the “powers that be”—those who determine how often chains are to be inspected; how soon defective cars are to be retired; what signaling system is to be installed for those working in defenseless positions, whether cranes are to be stopped when repairs are made on the runway; what part of the work is to be done by ignorant foreigners; at what speed work is to be carried on; all those details of operation so intricately connected with the management of each enterprise that they cannot be reached by law, but must depend upon the will of him who directs the enterprise.”
Eastman, C. (1911), The Three Essentials for Accident Prevention, in: Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 38, No. 1, pages 98-107.
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