Women’s History Month: Making a Lasting Impact on Diversity and Safety

"…something must be done. We've got to turn this into some kind of victory, some kind of constructive action."

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015 there were 121 recorded work fatalities in the U.S. resulting from fire or explosion. As disturbing as that statistic is, even more people, 146 to be exact, died in a single day at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City in March, 1911. The fire was the deadliest workplace tragedy in NYC's history until the terrorist attacks on September 11th that occurred 90 years later. At the Triangle factory, workers were trapped as the building’s one fire escape collapsed, exit doors were locked and many other hazards prevented their escape.

A witness to the event, Frances Perkins, was quoted as saying "…something must be done. We've got to turn this into some kind of victory, some kind of constructive action," and went on to devote her career to making workplaces “as safe as science and law can make them.” At Day & Zimmermann, two of our core company values are safety and diversity, and that’s why I find Perkins’ remarkable story one to share as we recognize Women’s History Month. Following the Triangle fire, Perkins and other leaders led a committee to investigate and recommend practices to prevent similar tragedies.  Her leadership galvanized the commission to create the most comprehensive set of state laws governing workplace safety, and these laws became a model for other states and the federal government. Perkins went on to become Secretary of Labor under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the first woman to serve as a member of the Cabinet. In that role, she created the Bureau of Labor Standards, the first permanent federal agency established primarily to promote safety for working men and women. The Department’s activities later moved into the then newly created Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Through her passion and relentless drive, Perkins undoubtedly saved countless lives. Her commitment to improving workplace safety mirrors D&Z’s commitment to safety as a core value.  Frances Perkins also forged a path for women and challenged the social norms of the time by attending college, pursuing a career in government and positioning herself as an advocate for workplace safety.

Perkins’ story is one of many that demonstrates that women’s voices have a powerful impact on shaping society and in making a difference in the daily lives of others, even when faced with unlikely odds.   Her passion for safety and her commitment to do what was right made a difference for many workers over the years.   Her story is emblematic of how diversity and safety can truly make a difference, and I’m proud to be a part of a company that values these and strives to make a difference in these areas as well.