Who says Safety First?

By Ellen S. Nasner, BWC Education and Training Services Manager

Safety First is a phrase we’ve all heard, but where did it come from? It originates from the Safety First Movement, a 20th century movement to reduce workplace hazards. The phrase has been in use since in the United States since the 1910s. It also became popular in Japan around this same time.

At that time in America, railroads and mines were some of the most dangerous places to work, yet they had the least protection for workers. In 1908, the federal government established a very limited compensation system for its employees which helped spur the states into action. In 1910, New York became the first state to pass a workmen’s compensation law.

Ohio followed soon after with the passage of the Ohio Workmen’s Compensation act in 1911. This act came in response to the unchecked and frequent workplace injuries and fatalities of the Industrial Era. It created a state insurance fund in 1912 to compensate workers who were injured on the job. The Industrial Commission of Ohio ran the system until 1955, when the Ohio General Assembly created the Ohio Bureau of Workmen’s Compensation.

Around this same time (1913 to be exact), the National Safety Council formed and adopted the emblem of a green cross with arms of equal length on a white background. To this day, it remains the symbol of protection against accidents. The federal government created the U.S. Department of Labor on March 4, 1913. By 1921, 46 states/jurisdictions had workmen’s compensation laws in force. Fifty years later – on April 28, 1971 – the Occupational Safety and Health Administration launched. Step by step, Safety First for the worker and the workplace moved to the forefront in the U.S.

Today, BWC’s Division of Safety & Hygiene plays a critical role to ensure safety comes first in Ohio’s workplaces. Find out more about all of the services and programs we offer employers and employees at no cost right here: www.bwc.ohio.gov/catalog.

Fun fact: Safety comes from the French word “sauf” – which is the condition of being protected from harm or other non-desirable outcomes. So, remember – Safety First!



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