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New ASSE Film Captures a Century of Safety

Jan. 10, 2011

The American Society of Safety Engineers’ (ASSE) newly released film, "American Society of Safety Engineers – A Century of Safety,” tells the story of workplace safety and tragedy through the decades and why we are safer today.

This film outlines the genesis of safety in the workplace and the occupational safety, health and environmental profession as part of ASSE’s 100th anniversary. Narrated by Chicago-based actor Alan Wilder, the film walks the audience through tragedies and triumphs in the history of work safety. It spans several years and topics, from the March 25, 1911, Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City – which took the lives of 146 people unable to escape the fire due to locked doors and collapsed fire escapes  to the successful building of large projects without worker injuries or fatalities. ASSE was founded just months after the tragic Triangle Factory fire.

ASSE produced the documentary as part of its ongoing efforts to raise awareness about the importance of workplace safety and how it affects everyone in every facet of people’s work and daily lives. ASSE members and non-members are featured throughout the film, discussing the past and the future of work safety whether in the office, the manufacturing plant, on the road, in the air, in the farm fields and more.

“It truly is a feel-good profession. It’s hard work. It can be challenging," said Sandy Smith, EHS Today executive editor and ASSE member while discussing the importance of the EHS profession in the film. "I think people can get discouraged, but at the end of the day you are helping people return home to their families safely, you are helping them earn a living and you are helping them to do it safely. And I don’t think it gets any better than that,” 

ASSE President Darryl C. Hill, Ph.D., CSP, of MI, noted in the film, “One area that I’ve seen the profession change over the years is that it is beginning to focus on the business of safety. Whereas also demonstrating to the employer that safety is just not compliance or regulatory driven; that you as a profession or professional have to demonstrate the financial benefits to an organization.”

“I don’t know if its genetics because I’m a third generation safety engineer, but I know I’ve made a difference in the past, and I know I can make a difference in the future  and that’s a big driving factor,” said Lawrence J. H. Schulze, Ph.D., PE., CPE, past ASSE Gulf Coast chapter president, associate professor in the Department of Industrial Engineering at the University of Houston, in the film. “It’s a great joy when you know you can make a difference in somebody’s life.”

The Future

In addition to looking back on some of the tragedies and successes involving work safety and the development of the EHS profession, safety products, education, services and more, the documentary also looks to the challenges of the future.

While millions of people go to work and leave work injury- and illness-free every day in the United States, 12 people a day die from on-the-job injuries. According to OSHA, workplace injuries, illnesses, and deaths cost the U.S. $170 billion annually. This does not take into account the untold grief family and friends go through.

However, for every $1 invested in a safety program, $4 to $6 are saved because:

  • injuries and illnesses decline or are prevented,
  • medical and workers compensation costs decrease,
  • absenteeism decreases,
  • turnover decreases,
  • reduction in delayed production time decreases and
  • employee morale increases.

“This is not only our anniversary year, but the kickoff, the launch pad to the next 100 years,” said ASSE President-elect Terrie Norris, CSP, ARM, of Long Beach, Calif. “We have much more to do.”

ASSE was founded in 1911 in New York City and now has more than 32,000 occupational safety, health and environmental professional members located worldwide committed to protecting people, property and the environment.

About the Author

Laura Walter

Laura Walter was formerly senior editor of EHS Today. She is a subject matter expert in EHS compliance and government issues and has covered a variety of topics relating to occupational safety and health. Her writing has earned awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE), the Trade Association Business Publications International (TABPI) and APEX Awards for Publication Excellence. Her debut novel, Body of Stars (Dutton) was published in 2021.

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