Devastating catastrophes and the work of key individuals have contributed to the evolution of modern occupational health and safety.
Feb. 27, 1869
Alice Hamilton, considered the founder of occupational medicine, is born in New York City. She earns her M.D. in 1893 and becomes director of Illinois' Occupational Disease Commission at its creation in 1910, focusing on lead-related illnesses; a 1911 commission report prompts the Illinois legislature to pass an early worker's compensation law. Hamilton in 1919 joins the Harvard Medical School's faculty. She publishes "Industrial Poisons in the United States" in 1925 and "Industrial Toxicology" in 1934.
Oct. 8, 1871
Two great fires strike the Midwest on the same day. The Great Chicago Fire consumes thousands of buildings and kills an estimated 200 to 300 residents. The Peshtigo Fire kills at least 1,180 people as high winds spread flames across farms, forests, and towns in drought-stricken Wisconsin and upper Michigan.
April 10, 1882
Frances Perkins is born in Boston. A social worker, teacher, and consumer activist, she is appointed to New York State's Industrial Board in 1919 and named Secretary of Labor by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933, making her the first woman to serve in a U.S. president's Cabinet.
Dec. 6, 1907
At least 362 miners are killed by an explosion at two connected coal mines in Monongah, W.Va.--the worst mining disaster in U.S. history. As a result, Congress creates the U.S. Bureau of Mines within the Interior Department three years later.
March 25, 1911
A fire inside the Triangle Waist Company factory in New York City's garment district kills 146 workers, mostly immigrant Jewish and Italian women in their teens and early 20s. It is the deadliest workplace incident in the city's history until 9/11.
Oct. 14, 1911
The United Society of Casualty Inspectors is founded in New York City. Its name changes to the American Society of Safety Engineers in 1914.
Sept. 24, 1913
The National Safety Council is founded and begins working broadly on safety issues, especially traffic safety and industrial safety. It eventually receives a congressional charter that is signed by President Dwight Eisenhower on Aug. 13, 1953.
Oct. 15, 1915
The U.S. Labor Department issues the first compendium of its regulations.
July 5, 1935
Enactment of the National Labor Relations Act establishes the National Labor Relations Board. Three years later, the Fair Labor Standards Act is enacted.
Aug. 14, 1935
President Franklin Roosevelt signs the Social Security Act of 1935, which offers funding for unemployment offices to help millions of workers. It also makes funds available for development of state industrial health programs that address lead exposures, silicosis, and asbestosis.
June 6, 1939
The first organizational meeting of the American Industrial Hygiene Association takes place in Cleveland with President William P. Yant, R&D director of the Mine Safety Appliances Co., speaking. An offshoot of the American Association of Industrial Physicians and Surgeons, AIHA holds its first annual business meeting June 5, 1940, in New York City. Its membership will exceed 5,000 for the first time in 1980.
April 19, 1942
The first professional association for occupational and environmental health nurses is created when 300 nurses from 16 states found the American Association of Industrial Nurses, the predecessor of today's American Association of Occupational Health Nurses.
Nov. 28, 1942
Boston's packed Cocoanut Grove nightclub burns after a patron accidentally ignites artificial palm fronds in a downstairs lounge. Possible exit doors are sealed or swing inward, and the main entrance is a revolving glass door. With 492 deaths, Cocoanut Grove is the deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history and the cause of major changes in fire codes and laws, including emergency lighting and occupant capacity placards in nightclubs and other meeting places.
April 16, 1947
Fire erupts as longshoremen load the Liberty ship Grandcamp, and an attempt to stifle it by sealing the holds is catastrophic. The ship's cargo of ammonium nitrate fertilizer explodes, damaging Liberty ship Highflyer, which explodes hours later. The initial blast devastates Texas City, Texas, especially its docks and a Monsanto plant adjacent to them. Final tallies are an estimated 576 dead--firefighters, onlookers, some of the ship's crew, and Monsanto workers--and about 5,000 injuries.
The journal of the American Society of Safety Engineers debuts as a quarterly supplement. In 1961, it switches to monthly publication as an independent title.
Sept. 9, 1966
President Lyndon Johnson signs the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act and the Highway Safety Act, which require issuance of federal safety standards for motor vehicles after the 1968 model year.
April 1, 1967
The National Transportation Safety Board begins operating, initially relying on the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) for funding but soon becoming fully independent. It is charged with investigating every civil aviation accident in the United States and significant railroad, highway, marine, and pipeline accidents and issuing recommendations to prevent future accidents.
Jan. 1, 1968
Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 208, enacted by DOT in 1967, requires installation of manual seat belts in all new cars as of the 1968 model year. But because many vehicles occupants don't wear them, DOT extensively tests passive restraints--including air bags, which are hotly debated in the executive and legislative branches for the next 16 years.
Nov. 19, 1968
An explosion inside the Consol No. 9 Mine in Farmington, W.Va., traps 78 miners, although 21 others manage to escape. The mine's entrances are sealed days later to extinguish fires after readings indicate the air in the mine cannot support life. Congress soon passes the 1969 Coal Mine Safety and Health Act, which becomes a model for the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.
April 28, 1971
OSHA is created and soon adopts its first standards through a one-time-only, streamlined process Congress has allowed. The Dec. 29, 1970, signing of the OSH Act by President Richard Nixon established OSHA, NIOSH, and the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
The Chemical Manufacturers Association's Chemical Transportation Emergency Center (CHEMTREC) opens its doors in Arlington, Va., offering 24-hour aid to hazardous materials responders. By its 33rd anniversary in 2004, it will have a database of 5 million Material Safety Data Sheets and have assisted in more than 1 million emergencies.
June 7, 1972
OSHA issues a permanent standard regulating occupational exposure to asbestos, which follow its Dec. 7, 1971, emergency temporary standard lowering the exposure limit. The agency will continue working on its asbestos standards for the next 20 years.
The first examination leading to the Certified Safety Professional certification is offered. In its 2005 annual report, the Board of Certified Safety Professionals will report a total of 10,768 current CSPs.
May 14, 1973
The Consumer Product Safety Commission's initial four commissioners begin their terms, with Richard O. Simpson serving as CPSC's first chairman. CPSC was created by passage of the Consumer Product Safety Act in 1972, which followed a presidential commission's 1970 report recommending creation of an independent federal agency to set safety standards for consumer products.
May 28, 1977
The Beverly Hills Supper Club in Southgate, Ky., catches fire during the Memorial Day weekend, with aluminum wiring in walls at the front of the club cited as the immediate cause. Poorly marked exits, lack of a sprinkler system, and flammable carpets contribute to the toll: 165 patrons killed, more than 200 injured.
Nov. 9, 1977
The Coal Act is expanded and enacted as the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act, establishing the Mine Safety and Health Administration within the U.S. Department of Labor.
March 28, 1979
Equipment malfunctions, design-related problems, and worker errors cause a partial meltdown of the Three Mile Island Unit 2 reactor core near Middletown, Pa. The most serious incident in the history of U.S. commercial nuclear power plants' operation releases small amounts of radioactivity off site, with no deaths.
March 30, 1979
By executive order, President Jimmy Carter creates the Federal Emergency Management Agency from five existing agencies.
Oct. 23, 1981
NHTSA Administrator Raymond Peck Jr. rescinds Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 208, which former DOT Secretary Brock Adams had amended to require automatic restraints in all passenger cars.
July 2, 1982
OSHA creates the Voluntary Protection Programs to encourage outstanding site safety and health programs. VPP has grown to more than 1,400 sites today.
June 24, 1983
Ruling in State Farm v. DOT, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously overturns the 1981 rescission of Safety Standard 208, holding that NHTSA failed to present an adequate basis and explanation for eliminating the passive restraint standard.
Nov. 25, 1983
OSHA issues its Hazard Communication Standard, which requires employers to inform and train millions of workers who are exposed to or handle toxic substances.
July 11, 1984
DOT Secretary Elizabeth Dole issues a final rule mandating air bags and/or automatic seat belt restraints in all cars after 1990 unless states representing two-thirds of the U.S. population vote for mandatory use of seat belts.
Dec. 3, 1984
Methyl isocyanate gas leaks from a tank at a Bhopal, India, plant owned and operated by Union Carbide India Limited. The leak kills 3,828 people and causes permanent or partial disability for several thousand others who live nearby. Union Carbide Corp. and UCIL eventually fund a $470 million civil settlement that is upheld by the Supreme Court of India in October 2001. The Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre, built mainly from UCC's sale of its UCIL stock, opens the same year.
April 25-26, 1986
A steam explosion during tests of Reactor 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear plant, USSR (now Ukraine), destroys the reactor's lid and kills more than 30 workers. About 1,000 on-site reactor staff and emergency workers are heavily exposed to high-level radiation on the first day of the accident. More than 200,000 emergency and recovery operation workers are exposed in 1986-87.
Responsible Care®, a Canadian innovation, is adopted by the Chemical Manufacturers Association (today's American Chemistry Council) as a voluntary initiative for companies to continuously improve EH&S performance. By 2003, Responsible Care companies in the United States have a worker safety record four and a half times better than the average for the U.S. manufacturing sector and have reduced releases to the environment by more than 75 percent, ACC reports.
Sept. 3, 1991
A hydraulic line breaks near a gas-fired cooker at the Imperial Food Products Inc. chicken processing plant in Hamlet, N.C. Twenty-five workers die and 54 are injured trying to escape the ensuing fire. OSHA's investigation finds locked doors, no fire alarms, and no automatic fire suppression system contributed to the disaster.
July 7, 1992
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issues its decision in AFL-CIO v. OSHA, 965 F.2d 962, which invalidates OSHA's Jan. 19, 1989, final rule setting Permissible Exposure Limits for 428 substances. Both industry and labor had sued to block the new PELs, which were based on ACGIH Threshold Limit Values, and the court ruled OSHA had not proved them technically or economically feasible as required. The decision leaves older PELs in place, frustrating stakeholders.
The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board begins operations, having been authorized by the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990.
Nov. 14, 2000
OSHA issues a final rule requiring certain employers to analyze and address ergonomic hazards. Industry fights back and calls for an unprecedented repeal. Congress votes March 7-8, 2001, to repeal the rule, and President George W. Bush signs the repeal March 20, 2001.
Jan. 17, 2001
OSHA issues a steel erection standard, which is the first safety standard in its nearly 30-year history to be developed through a negotiated rulemaking process. Completing the standard has taken seven years.
Sept. 23, 2001
Thirteen coal miners die in two explosions at the Jim Walters Resources #5 Mine near Brookwood, Ala., with 12 of them killed by the second explosion while trying to rescue a miner who had been incapacitated by the first blast.
July 24, 2002
Water pouring in from an adjoining mine traps nine coal miners inside the Quecreek #1 Mine in Somerset County, Pa. Three days later, all are safely rescued.
Feb. 20, 2003
One hundred people die in a fire at The Station, a nightclub in West Warwick, R.I., after pyrotechnics set off during a performance ignite foam decorations around the stage.
Sept. 22, 2005
OSHA announces a settlement in which BP Products North America Inc. agrees to pay $21,361,500, a record penalty for the safety agency, in connection with a March 2005 explosion at its Texas City, Texas, refinery that killed 15 workers and injured more than 170. The amount includes $20,720,000 in penalties for what OSHA has classified as egregious willful violations.
Jan. 2, 2006
Twelve miners die in a methane explosion in the Sago Mine near Buckhannon, W.Va. Another miner, Randal McCloy Jr., miraculously survives. On June 15, 2006, President Bush signs a law requiring better preparation for underground coal mine emergency evacuations and rescues.
Aug. 24, 2006
OSHA issues a final Assigned Protection Factors rule that completes its 1998 revision of the Respiratory Protection Standard, 29 CFR 1910.134. The rule assists with selecting respirators for use in many industries and applies to an estimated 5.2 million workers.
Feb. 7, 2008
An explosion at Imperial Sugar's Port Wentworth, Ga., mill destroys much of the plant and ultimately results in an $8.7 million OSHA fine. It brings prolonged pressure on OSHA to regulate combustible dusts, which the agency finally addresses them specifically in its March 2012 final rule aligning the Hazard Communication Standard with GHS.
The worldwide H1N1 influenza pandemic of 2009 was the biggest safety and health event during the past five years. It resulted in more than 18,449 deaths and confirmed cases in more than 200 countries or territories, according to the World Health Organization.
Aug. 25, 2009
U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and a champion of workplace safety issues, dies of brain cancer at home in Hyannis Port, Mass.
Oct. 20, 2009
OSHA issues the largest fine in its history, $87,430,000, to BP Products North America Inc. for the company's alleged failure to correct potential hazards at its Texas City, Texas refinery.
April 5, 2010
An explosion inside the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County, W.Va., kills 29 miners. In December 2011, the Mine Safety and Health Administration issues a record $10.8 million fine against Performance Coal Co., a subsidiary of Massey Energy Co., along with 369 citations and orders.
April 20, 2010
A blowout and explosion occur on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers and causing a major oil spill. BP eventually takes a $37.2 billion charge in connection with the spill. In November 2011, the International Maritime Organization gives certificates to Chief Engineer Anthony Gervasio and Qualified Member of the Engineering Department Louis Longlois of the offshore supply boat Damon B. Bankston for their heroism in rescuing survivors after the explosion.
Aug. 5, 2010
OSHA files $16.6 million in penalties and 371 violations against three construction companies and 14 site contractors for the natural gas explosion that wrecked the Kleen Energy Systems LLC power plant on Feb. 7, 2010, as it was being built in Middletown, Conn. The blast killed six workers and injured 50 others.
Oct. 8, 2010
The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries issues a record fine, $2.39 million, in connection with an April 2010 explosion and seven fatalities at the Tesoro petroleum refinery in Anacortes, Wash.
Sept. 6, 2010
A section of a Pacific Gas & Electric natural gas pipeline ruptures in San Bruno, Calif., causing an explosion that kills eight people and destroys numerous homes.
Dec. 19, 2010
In its journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, CDC reports sharply higher estimates of the extent of U.S. foodborne illnesses: About 48 million people (1 in 6 Americans) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year.
March 11, 2011
An offshore earthquake triggers a devastating tsunami in northeastern Japan, killing thousands of people and also crippling the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
This timeline originally appeared in the January 2007 issue of Occupational Health & Safety. Events occurring after that issue was published were included in the July 2012 issue of the magazine.
This article originally appeared in the January 2007 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.