The History and Evolution of Construction Safety Regulations

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The History and Evolution of Construction Safety Regulations The emphasis on safety regulations in the construction industry has grown exponentially over the past 125 years. Today the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), is the primary agency for safety legislation in the United States. Construction regulations are addressed in section 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). But how did OSHA come about? In this report I will address the evolution of construction regulations in the United States.

In 1887 Congress passed the Interstate Commerce Act to regulate the railroad industry. The act created the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC). This was a huge step in legislation because it became the first regulatory agency created by the federal government. The original intent of the commission was to control the railroad monopoly by regulating price gouging. However, the ICC laid the foundation for safety regulations after publishing accident statistics within the railroad industry in 1889. The publishing led Congress to pass the Federal Safety Appliance Act of 1893 which mandated air brakes and automatic couplers on all railcars. This was the government’s first attempt at improving safety on the job site. Railroad companies were slow to react to the new legislation. Death and injuries on railroad sites continued to be considered a minor inconvenience by the massive corporations, despite the government’s insistence on safety. It wasn’t until it started costing company’s money, that safety would become a true focus.

Despite efforts made by the Federal Safety Appliance Act to increase safety for rail workers, injuries and fatalities were still all too common. The average fatality rate for railroad workers was one in three hundred. This didn’t seem to bother the railroad companies who paid very little, if anything at all, to the families of employees that died. Due to public outcry over wrong doing by the railroad companies, the federal government was forced to intervene. In 1908 Congress passed the Federal Employer’ Liability Act. The act gave workers and their families the power they needed to fight railroad companies over death or injuries caused by unsafe working environments. Then in 1910, New York became the first state to enact a worker’s compensation law. Over the next ten years, almost every other state followed in their footsteps. Once companies lost the despicable luxury of ignoring restitution to workers or their families, they were forced to take a closer look at safety as a cost savings measure. In my opinion, workers compensation laws are the foundation upon which workplace safety was built. By 1920, forty-four states had passed workers compensation laws.

In 1913, a group of industrial leaders met and formed the National Safety Council (NSC). Finally, businesses were working together for the betterment of the American worker. The goal of the NSC was to make safety information available to all who were concerned. While the focus of the NSC was later broadened to include traffic and non-industrial safety, it was still instrumental in expanding knowledge and the need for safety in the work place.

As safety became more important nationwide, the construction industry followed suit in sharing its knowledge in an organized manner. Although building codes had been around for hundreds of years, it wasn’t until 1915 that standards became more uniform. In 1915, the Building Officials and Code Administration formed for the sole purpose of exchanging knowledge and ideas about building safety and construction regulation.

In 1916 the Travelers Insurance Company published “Safety in Building Construction.” It was written in response to the large number of deaths both on the job site and post construction. The publishing compiled the most commonly known building codes and incorporated the best known safety applications for each job. The topics covered everything...
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