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New York State Factory Investigating Commission

The New York State Factory Investigating Commission was established following the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of March 25, 1911.

Significance

This commission was "to investigate the conditions under which manufacturing is carried on." The legislature gave it unusual powers and scope. The commission had the power to summon witnesses to testify under oath and had a mandate to look into fire hazards, unsanitary conditions, occupational diseases, effectiveness of factory inspection, tenement manufacturing and many other matters. At first the investigation was limited to the nine largest cities in the state, but that restriction was later lifted. Based on its findings, the commission was to recommend protective programs. Originally created for only one year, the commission was extended three years beyond that, but its last two years were devoted to matters other than safety and health.

The New York commission was by far the broadest, most thorough study of workers' safety and health done up to that point. It was comparable to the Pittsburgh Survey, only covering an entire state. Through the commission, in the words of reformer Frances Perkins, the flames of the Triangle fire were magnified into "a torch that lighted up the industrial scene."

Besides a total of 20 laws providing stricter regulation of occupational safety and health conditions, the Factory Investigating Commission fostered a greater public awareness of the nature and extent of the problem. Many of the manufacturers investigated had not known about conditions in their own plants. Public authorities in several cities were prompted to do investigations of their own. As the commission put it, "A general awakening has taken place throughout the State." As a delayed result of the commission's work, in 1919 the state adopted an industrial commission to set safety and health rules administratively. Frances Perkins was named to this body. Years later, Perkins termed the Factory Investigating Commission a "turning point" in American attitudes toward social responsibility."

Source: Judson MacLaury, Government Regulation of Workers' Safety and Health, 1877–1917.

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NY State Factory Investigating Commission