Legacy of a Tragedy: The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

by  Citation News Editor 25. March 2012

March 25, 2012, marks the 101st anniversary of New York City’s deadliest industrial accident, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.

In less than 20 minutes, 146 workers burned, or jumped or fell to their deaths while trying to escape the flames at the factory.

The Fire Safety Commission at the time reported that over 95% of New York shops had defective safety conditions. Many lacked usable fire escapes and adequate exits.  A common management practice at the time was to lock employees inside the crowded and cluttered sweatshops during work hours to discourage breaks and stealing.

Soon-to-retire NYC Fire Chief Edward F. Croker had cited Triangle’s location (the Brown Building, fka, the Asch Building at 23-29 Washington Place) multiple times for lack of fire escapes, the last only a week before the fire.

Property owners and their representatives resisted, claiming sprinklers were “cumbersome and costly” and that such enforced regulations would “wipe out industry in the state.”

Individual witnesses and survivors of the Triangle fire agreed on numerous circumstances that contributed to the high number of deaths (several of which were preventable):

  • The fire was likely started by a match or cigarette butt tossed into a scrap bin on the 8th floor of the 10-story building.
  • Factory environment: long work tables difficult to get around, crowded rooms cluttered with flammable materials, oily floors from leaking machinery.
  • Boxes (of work materials) blocked the exit.
  • The door leading to the stairwell was locked from the outside.
  • The building had no sprinkler system, only water pails – many of which were empty.
  • The sole fire escape, many years rusted, collapsed.
  • Firemen’s hoses lacked enough pressure to reach the fire.
  • Firemen’s ladders reached only the 6th floor.
  • Firemen’s nets all split upon impact.

In a report following the Triangle fire, the Commission quoted NYC Fire Chief John Kenlon as stating, “Had an automatic sprinkler system been installed in the Triangle Waist Company building, he believed that not a single life would have been lost.”

Grain Bin Operator Closes in Wake of 2 Deaths, DOL Fines

by  Citation News Editor 9. December 2011

Two derelict social media sites still display final messages from those who knew the account owners: "RIP, we will miss you."

The sites belonged to two teenagers who lost their lives while working in an Illinois corn bin owned by Haasbach LLC. The cause of death was described as "traumatic asphyxiation".

On July 28, 2010, Wyatt Whitebread, 14, Alex Pacas, 19, and Will Piper, 20, were working on a pile of corn 30-feet deep while the bin’s unloading system was in operation. The workers were "walking down the corn," breaking up clumps of damp grain to make it flow onto a conveyor.

Whitebread began to sink into the pile as Piper and Pacas attempted to rescue him. Within seconds, Whitebread was completely engulfed in the corn, followed by Pacas. Piper was able to keep his head above the corn and was rescued as another worker, age 15, escaped the bin and went for help.

On December 7, 2011, the Department of Labor (DOL) reached an agreement with Haasbach LLC in Mount Carroll, IL, resolving 25 citations issued by the department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In addition, the Department's Wage and Hour Division assessed civil monetary penalties for child labor violations.

OSHA cited Haasbach for 12 willful, 12 serious and 1 other-than-serious violation of the agency's grain standards. Following the December 7th agreement, the company must pay $200,000 in penalties, an amount reduced from the original fines of $550,000, based on Haasbach's size and assets.

The company failed to provide the workers with proper equipment, precautions and training. In addition, the workers should not have been in the bin while machinery was running.

A separate investigation by the DOL's Wage and Hour Division found that Haasbach violated the Fair Labor Standards Act's child labor provisions by employing workers under age 18 to perform hazardous jobs. Under the agreement, Haasbach will pay $68,125. Haasbach employed at least 4 underage workers at the time of the accident.

The company also faces two wrongful death lawsuits from the families of the deceased, as well as a personal injury suit by Piper. All three suits seek damages in excess of $50,000.

Haasbach, previously owned by three large farming families in Warren, IL, is no longer in business and has sold its Mount Carroll property to another grain storage operation. Its officials have neither issued any public apology nor sent a message of condolence to the families or community.