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Monday, March 21, 2011

An Important History Lesson In Workplace Safety Laws

Guest Blog by John B. Boyd

“The only thing new under the sun is the history which you don’t know.” Harry S Truman

I am amazed at the number of Republicans and Democrats who love to credit our founding fathers with abundant wisdom, then conveniently ignore some of the historical facts about the legislation these legendary giants implemented during our early history. This is true whether for national health care, or, for appropriate workers’ compensation insurance coverage.

In 1798, the United States Congress passed an Act for Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen. This law required all seamen who worked in the merchant marine (private companies) to pay a special tax to fund medical care and hospitals for seamen who were sick or injured. The government deemed that merchant seamen were necessary to the economic health of America and their hard labor jobs often produced injuries that if left untreated would result in an unnecessary loss of their labor and economic hardship for our country.

Thomas Jefferson was the Senate leader and John Adams the President. I dare say both of them were very familiar with our Constitution and it’s restrictions, yet they both helped put in place this common sense law and never once considered it an affront to personal liberty.

There is very little difference between that act and compulsory health insurance other than one is a tax and the other a fine if one doesn’t comply. Both require citizens to help fund their own health care. Both have the power to create a healthier workforce and consequently a healthier economy.

Next month marks the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which is credited with the impetus for the need for strong unions; for national workers’ compensation laws; and, for states to enact safety laws regulating the workplace.

Today’s legislators would well be served by such history lessons.

John B. Boyd  practices in Kansas City, Missouri ( He was the former Acting Chairman of the Labor & Industrial Relations Commission of Missouri. John is a founding member of and Past-President of the Workers' Injury Law and Advocacy Group and a member and former Vice-President of the Missouri Trial Lawyers Association. He is a charter Fellow in the College of Workers' Compensation Lawyers. He is counsel to the Missouri AFL-CIO Lawyers Coordinating Committee and represents various labor organizations.