Fires & Flammables – Deadliest Workplace Accidents in American History

What’s the worst that could happen in a workplace? Too many times, the answer to this question has come in the form of shocking disasters and accidents, deadly tragedies that underscore the importance of workplace safety and vigilant protection of worker’s rights. Here we have a list of three of the deadliest workplace accidents to have taken place in modern American history, each one a painful reminder of all the things that could go wrong when workplace safety is taken for granted.

Monongah Mining Disaster (December 1907)

Deaths: At least 362. In a coal mine located in Monongah, West Virginia, an underground explosion ignited the coal dust within the mines, killing hundreds of mine workers and their assisting family members including children and women. Of the hundreds of people working within the mines, only one survivor was documented to have escaped. Though official documents place the death toll for the disaster at 362, some estimate that the actual death toll could be higher than 500 – accounting for undocumented family members who may have been assisting the documented mine workers underground at the time that the explosion took place. 

NY Triangle Shirtwaist Fire (March 1911)

Deaths: 146. In a garment factory located in New York City, it took only 18 minutes for a fire to claim the lives of 146 garment workers, most of whom were immigrant women. The high death toll is blamed on the highly flammable materials that littered the factory as well as the absence of any escape routes for those workers located in the 9th floor. The factory owners were found to have padlocked the exit routes in the 9th floor, thereby trapping the women there and preventing their escape from the fire. Most of those who died did so after throwing themselves out through the 9th floor windows of the factory building.

Texas City Disaster (April 1947)

Deaths: At least 578. The French-owned SS Grandcamp caught fire in the early morning. Stocked with 3,200 tons of ammonium nitrate, the vessel exploded later in the same morning, destroying the entire dock area as well as the nearby Monsanto Chemical Company and other industrial buildings. Apart from those who died, more than 3,500 were injured by the explosion which reportedly triggered a 15-foot tidal wave and threw out steel fragments more than a mile away from the explosion site.

Although we have made significant progress in fire prevention and safety since the days of the accidents mentioned above, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that fires and explosions still account for more than 3% of workplace fatalities. Fires also cause billions of dollars in property damage annually and destroy millions of acres of forests and other natural resources. We must remain vigilant about preventing fires and maintain strong programs to educate people about fire safety.

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