The Risks and Dangers of Sweatshops in 1911

Topics: Sweatshops

Sweatshops and factories during the twenty first century are not near as dangerous as sweatshops in the year of 1911 mostly due to the advances, procedures, regulations, administrations, and laws to protect workers that have been created since the fire of 1911. The newspaper published by the New York Times titled 141 Men and Women Die in Triangle Waist Factory Fire written the day after the tragedy stated “The building itself was of the most modern construction and classed as fireproof, (Drehle 1). To the surprise of most of the workers that would be proven wrong and would be taught that most of what they were around wasn’t as safe as it should have been.

Exits were blocked, floors were dirty and oily, a lack of fire exits, precautions, waste bins were left full to catch fire, and obstacles all contributed to the death of most of the employees. After the fire that changed America the government stepped and regulations that were once suggested were enforced, and laws were created to protect employees that worked in sweatshops.

Administrations were also created in addition to protect workers and their rights.

A look at sweatshops and factories today are different than those in 1911. The fire of 1911 was just waiting to happen many of the things that were wrong with the factory could have easily been corrected. The photo titled “What Went Wrong” under the list of fire hazards the problems told in detail are below. The fire escape was rusted and collapsed which could have been the one thing the workers could have relied on to escape during the fire.

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The owners were so greedy and thought it was a good idea to have one exit to the stairwell locked to prevent a few dollars worth of product from being stolen. Had that door not been locked most of those employees if not all of them could have escaped the fire. At the time of the fire regulations were there they were just suggested and most of them ignored instead of being enforced. Had the fire drills been practiced the workers would know exactly what to have done in the event of a fire. Containers full of oil were left open and just laying out. Had they been sealed and stored in a fireproof container the fire wouldn’t have spread so fast. A key component that would stop fires soon after they started didn’t work due to a lack of water pressure.

If the sprinkler system had worked the fire that initially started small could have been stopped in its tracks and never spread to anything in the factory. The fire exits were blocked with boxes and were locked by command of the building owners to stop the theft of small bits of fabric. Floors had been covered in oil which spread the fire rapidly which could have easily been cleaned up to prevent that from happening.Waste bins full of scraps that could easily catch and spread fire weren’t emptied regularly like they could have been to prevent fires from spreading as well. Employees also thought that if there was a small bucket of water they could put it out with a pail of water next to where they worked and that it was safe (What Went Wrong). The diagram of the ninth floor in the the book Flesh and Blood so Cheap depicts exactly how the ninth floor was arranged and could tell that tables were not spaced out enough to allow for easy maneuverability throughout the ninth floor (Marrin 107).

In other words the building was packed so tightly that when the fire broke out that tables became obstacles to everyone, but had there been more room between all the tables and everything people would have been able to move faster in the event of a fire. After the fire, the government stepped in to correct everything so that employees who worked weren’t killed in a fire like the one in 1911. Laws were created to correct problems with working conditions. According to The Labor Law, a law was made that stated that “Every factory building over two stories in height in which more than twenty-five persons are employed above the ground floor, a fire drill which will conduct all the occupants of such building to a place of safety and in which all the occupants of such building shall participate simultaneously shall be conducted at least once a month”. Meaning that there had to be a fire drill at least once a mont This law helped with how people reacted to when a fire broke out and didn’t scramble to get out and crowd exits. According to that same book it also stated that “Every factory building over two stories in height in which more than twenty-five persons are employed above the ground floor shall be equipped with a fire alarm signal system with a sufficient number of signals clearly audible to all occupants thereof. This law helped in the aid of alerting everyone in the event of a fire unlike in the fire of 1911 where no one knew about the fire until it was too late.

Another law that was created stated that; “every factory building over seven stories or over ninety feet in height in which wooden flooring or wooden trim is used and more than two hundred people are regularly employed above the seventh floor or more than ninety feet above the ground level of such building, the owner of the building shall install an automatic sprinkler system approved as to form and manner in the city of New York by the fire commissioner of such city, and elsewhere, by the state fire marshal” (The Labor Law). This stated that buildings that met the criteria for automated sprinkler systems would have to have them installed where they worked and and had been approved by the state’s fire marshal. Sweatshops and factories today are a lot safer than factories and sweatshops in 1911 due to the advances in safety, administration’s, laws, and regulations. The Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1971 requires employers to maintain safe working conditions. Under this law, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) develops workplace standards, conducts inspections to assess compliance with them, and issues citations and imposes penalties for noncompliance (United States Government).

Sweatshops and factories are a lot different than what they used to be in 1911. The Triangle shirtwaist Building did not have an alarm like every factory and sweatshop has today to alert everyone in the event of a fire. The main reason most of the employees did not escape was because they were not notified that there was a fire, but in sweatshops and factories today there are not many without fire alarms which make them safer than they once were. Another way sweatshops and factories are much safer now than back in 1911 was the use of working and inspected automated sprinkler systems. In conclusion sweatshops and factories are much safer than those in 1911. New safer technology has been created for the safety of employees. Every precaution is taken to make sure workers are safe. Administrations such as OSHA have been created as well to protect workers from dangerous materials and situations today unlike then.

Laws have also been passed to correct problems seen after the fire such as having a fire marshal that enforces regulations instead of not having one and regulations being ignored and discarded. Fire drills are practiced regularly in factories as well to make sure emplovees know what to do if there is a fire. Factories and sweatshops are much safer now than they were then because of the lack of rules,regulations, communication, fire hazards, and a lack of administrations to protect workers.

Works Cited

  1. Von Drehle, David. “The Triangle.” Triangle: The Fire That Changed America. New York: Atlantic Monthly, 2003. Print. checked off “What Went Wrong?” Cornell University. N.p., 2011. Web. 01 Dec. 2015.
  2. “141 Men and Girls Die in Waist Factory Fire.” New York Times 26 Mar. 1911: 1-3. Print. AR

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The Risks and Dangers of Sweatshops in 1911. (2023, May 16). Retrieved from

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