Thursday, May 25, 2017

New Deal Workplace Safety

"All works projects shall be conducted in accordance with safe working conditions, and every effort shall be made for the prevention of accidents."

--President Franklin Roosevelt, 1935, Executive Order No. 7046

Above: A safety trophy awarded to the WPA, ca. 1935-1943. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A first aid vehicle for WPA workers on a project in Mobile, Alabama, ca. 1935-1943. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A nurse checks a WPA worker at the Delta National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana, 1937. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A WPA poster promoting workplace safety. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The New Deal helped improve workplace safety in America. Here are just a few examples:

Public Works Administration (PWA): Reporting on its oversight of the thousands of large construction projects it funded, the PWA noted that, "Failure of contractors and owners to maintain proper safety devices for workers has also been subject to investigation," and gave an example of workers getting the bends because a contractor tried to save money by using faulty decompression chambers. (America Builds: The Record of PWA, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1939, p. 88.)

Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC): A member of the CCC recalled decades later: "There was an intensive safety program in the CCCs. We were taught how to carry and use tools safely in all phases of our work. The forester in charge of our safety program did an excellent job in making us safety conscious in the way we worked and lived. This safety training has never left me. This was over 45 years ago when most businesses had not recognized the value of safety programs." (Perry H. Merrill, Roosevelt's Forest Army: A History of the Civilian Conservation Corps, Montpelier, VT, 1981, p. 56.)

Civil Works Administration (CWA): "With four million employees on its rolls working on a hundred different types of projects, the Civil Works Administration was early forced to follow the example of other large employers of labor and set up an extensive Safety Program... As it developed finally, this program proved to be the most extensive ever undertaken in the United States... More than one thousand eight hundred safety directors gave their full time to the work..." (Henry Alsberg (ed.), America Fights the Depression: A Photographic Record of the Civil Works Administration, New York: Coward-McCann, 1934, p. 16.) 

Work Division of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA, or ERA): "The ERA safety program continued the methods initiated by the CWA, which had established a record low accident-frequency rate for construction work... Those responsible for safety were empowered to remove workers from any project on which unsafe conditions persisted. Safe practice rules were brought vividly to the attention of the workers through safety bulletins. Goggles, safety-belts, first-aid materials and other safety supplies were specified for various projects, and checked by inspection. Thousands of foremen and workers were given training in first aid through the cooperation of the American Red Cross, the U.S.Bureau of Mines, and similar  organizations." (The Emergency Work Relief Program of the F.E.R.A., April 1, 1934  - July 1, 1935, p. 15.)

Works Progress Administration (WPA): "The WPA safety program reached all projects and activities by means of an intensive and continuous education campaign which was intended to stimulate interest in accident prevention at each level of supervision and among the project workers themselves. Conferences and meetings were held to instruct supervisors and foremen in safe methods and safety procedures, and workers were taught safe practices by their foremen on the jobs. Appropriate safety posters were prepared and distributed for display on all work projects, and a Nation-wide safety contest was conducted to stimulate and measure improvements in accident trends." (Federal Works Agency, Final on the WPA Program, 1935-43, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946, p. 75.)

National Youth Administration (NYA): With respect to resident work centers (where unemployed youth could train, work, and live together), "Safety regulations were rigorous, and no resident project could be 
started until the physical facilities had been inspected and approved by a representative of the State safety consultant of the WPA. These embraced water supply, sewage and sanitation, and structural condition 
of buildings." (Federal Security Agency, War Manpower Commission, Final Report of the National Youth Administration, Fiscal Years, 1936-1943, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1944, p. 182.)

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