Safety First

By Rivers of Steel Heritage Corporation

Safety became a priority in the iron and steel industy as the 20th century progressed. This exhibit documents not only the dangers of the mill and some strategies to overcome them, but also highlights the singular safety posters of Jack Boot, a Pittsburgh based designer.

Multi-Language Safety SignRivers of Steel Heritage Corporation

Steel mills historically have been, and still are, inherently dangerous places. Workers must always be on their guard, for their lives and livelihood depend upon their safety.

Safety Beats Injury (20th Century) by Jack Boot DisplaysRivers of Steel Heritage Corporation

Most safety programs emerged as compromises between labor reformers who publicized the ugly facts of the accident and employers who longed for efficient production and less negative publicity.

Safety Show (20th Century) by US Steel NewsRivers of Steel Heritage Corporation

Working under the belief that repetition is the best way to enforce a message, Safety First became the mantra of every aspect of life in the mill. Reminders were found at every turn – from the locker room to the work floor, and from the meeting hall to the board room. Safety was paramount, safety meant success for all.

Carnegie Steel Company Safety Calendar Cover Page (20th Century) by Carnegie Steel CompanyRivers of Steel Heritage Corporation

To encourage employees’ dedication to safety, companies often rewarded workers for long stretches of accident-free operation with Safety Awards.

Hard Hat Test (20th Century) by US Steel NewsRivers of Steel Heritage Corporation

“[The hard hat] was a great safety feature, but was also a badge of disgrace. [The new guys] had an orange hat with a big white band around it so everyone knew you were new. White hats were the bosses, yellow were the electricians, laborers wore orange without the band.”
-Charles Townsend,
LTV Pittsburgh (LTV, previously call Jones and Laughlin, was a steel mill in the Southside neighborhood of Pittsburgh)

Men in Oxygenation Gear (20th Century) by US Steel NewsRivers of Steel Heritage Corporation

A variety of gasses are used in and created by the production of coke, iron, and steel. Many of these gasses are odorless but lethal, posing a great danger to workers. In areas where there is a high risk of exposure to gas, workers are required to wear gas masks as a precautionary measure.

Working Near Dangerous Gases (20th Century) by US Steel NewsRivers of Steel Heritage Corporation

“The biggest hazard you have [in the blast furnace] is the by-product – the carbon monoxide gasses. You have to train very, very deeply on how to handle gas scenarios because blast furnaces at any time can get out of kilter and release a very high parts per million carbon monoxide gas and they’re to the point where if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing – one breath and you’re not getting back up.”
Bob Park,
Homestead Works (The Homestead Works was perhaps Pittsburgh's best known steel mill, contributing steel to such structures as the St. Louis Arch, the Empire State Building, the Panama Canal Locks, and many others).

"When IMPs Get in the Act" (20th Century) by US Steel NewsRivers of Steel Heritage Corporation

Safety warnings were placed on an endless variety of everyday objects, from flashlights to ice scrapers. These items were distributed to workers with the belief that repetition was one of the best ways to reinforce any message. Companies also frequently screened safety films to drive the point home.

Delighted to Meet Careless People (20th Century) by Jack Boot DisplaysRivers of Steel Heritage Corporation

“With Plant Protection we had several jobs…we had a fire department - it was a full scale fire department, we had one pumper… We also had ambulances. We had a stretcher ambulance for severe cases. We also had regular station wagons with stretchers in the back that collapsed…we used those basically to pick people up who were sick in the plant. We’d bring them back to the plant hospital on Amity Street…Even though you wore eye glasses...we had an awful lot of eye injuries.”

Richard Haydusko
Plant Protection, Homestead Steel Works

Gamble With This Hand (20th Century) by Jack Boot DisplaysRivers of Steel Heritage Corporation

One of the most common type of accident in steel mill was crushed hands or arms: between cars, machinery, and steel.

Hand Traps (20th Century) by Jack Boot DisplaysRivers of Steel Heritage Corporation

Many safety posters and warnings in the mill reiterated the danger of handtraps and pinch points.

Injury Free in '63 (20th Century) by Jack Boot DisplaysRivers of Steel Heritage Corporation

"We mostly wore slacks of a sturdy nature and things that fit tightly on top so that sweaters and things wouldn’t be caught in machines. I guess there were a few accidents like that. And you kept your head wrapped in a turban so your hair didn’t get into the machines…You were constantly being told, ‘Be careful;’ there were signs that said ‘Be careful of yourself and be careful of the equipment.”

Dr. Emma S. Rocco
Jones & Laughlin, Aliquippa (Jones and Laughlin was the the major steel producer in the Pittsburgh region outside of US Steel, with their Aliquippa site being a major operation in nearby Beaver County.)

Safety Shoes Cartoon (20th Century) by US Steel NewsRivers of Steel Heritage Corporation

Over the course of the twentieth century, many measures were instituted by management, workers, and unions alike to lessen the dangers of the industrial workplace and maintain steady production rates. The culture of safety was ingrained into the everyday work practices of the mill through training classes, films, manuals, posters, signs, personal protection devices, and tools.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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