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Men's Working Lives
Women at Work: Values
Occupational safety improved significantly throughout the American economy. In coal mining and railroading, two of the most dangerous occupations in the United States, total work accidents declined precipitously during the century. Work injuries showed a similar trend in most other occupations.
At the beginning of the century, men still loaded hundred-pound pigs of iron into boxcars without any kind of mechanical assistance. Frederick Taylor, the father of scientific management, became famous by teaching them how to do it faster. Serious injuries were routine.
The factories of that era were typically dark, cluttered, poorly ventilated, and filthy. Men worked in searing heat at furnace doors and in icy drafts a few yards away. At the end of the day, covered with grease and grime, they returned to homes that had no running water.
In the course of the century, more men found white-collar jobs, and the physical conditions of blue-collar work got better in every way. These improvements were driven primarily by changes in production technology. Workers were moved farther from harm and given much better protection when they were close to danger. Forklifts and conveyors took over the heavy lifting. Safety devices were added to every type of machinery. Factories were cleaned up and air-conditioned. Automatic monitoring systems were installed to warn of dangerous conditions.
Other factors that influenced the decline of industrial accidents were the expansion of tort liability, which exposed the makers and owners of industrial equipment involved in accidents to expensive litigation; the inclusion of workplace safety as a bargaining issue with unions; and government-imposed safety regulations.
HS series M 271 and Q 398; SA 1987, tables 1054 and 1219; SA 1997, tables 681 and 685; SA 1999, table 716; and Bureau of Transportation Statistics, National Transportation Statistics 1999, table 3-7, at www.bts.gov (accessed September 19, 2000). We did not standardize employee fatalities on railroads and in mines for the declining number of railroad and mine employees. If we did standardize for the number of employees, then the decline would be much less steep. But this correction would partly miss the point: the American work-place became much safer during the twentieth century in part because fewer workers were working in dangerous occupations.