‘My Favorite Murder’ Podcast: Workplace Disasters and the Rise of OSHA

FordHarrison
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As we all try to social distance during the pandemic, the additional time at home has had me searching for new content to stay engaged. During the course of this search, I recently stumbled upon “My Favorite Murder,” a hit true crime comedy podcast. Yes, you read that correctly—true crime comedy podcast.

The hosts, real-life best friends Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, have managed to blend their professional backgrounds in comedy and entertainment with their longtime fascination with true crime and disaster stories. Their podcast covers everything from serial killers to deadly industrial disasters that laid the foundation for large-scale federal and state workplace safety reform.

The Podcast Format

The podcast format is pretty simple: Karen and Georgia each select a true crime or disaster story to recount to one another and their loyal fan base of “Murderinos.” Each story is told with the hosts’ signature style of warmth and humor to deal with the difficult subject matter, all while remaining respectful and empathetic toward the victims.

Between their edge-of-your-seat retellings of murder investigations and heroic survivor tales, the hosts have dedicated several episodes to some of the most infamous workplace disasters in American history, including the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911 and the Radium Girls litigation of the 1920s through the 1930s. Both of these incidents sparked widespread outrage and calls for workplace reform to address unsafe working conditions and occupational disease.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

On March 25, 1911, a deadly fire erupted on the 8th, 9th, and 10th floors of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City, resulting in the deaths of 146 garment workers. Most of the victims were young immigrant women and girls, the youngest of whom was just 14 years old.

The tragedy was compounded by the fact that the building only had one fire escape (which collapsed during rescue efforts); managers had locked factory doors to prevent employee theft and unauthorized breaks, thereby blocking exits; and long tables and bulky machines made escape even more difficult. 

Sixty-two desperate workers jumped or fell from the factory’s upper floors as firefighters desperately tried to rescue victims using ladders that were too short and safety nets that tore. The factory owners were arrested, acquitted of criminal charges, and later found liable in a civil lawsuit.  Two years after the fire, one of the factory owners was arrested again for locking a factory door during working hours and was fined the minimum of $20.

The Radium Girls

Known as the “Radium Girls,” these female factory workers were hired to paint watch dials with self-luminous radium paint at three factories beginning in the early 1900s. While the factory owners and chemists carefully avoided exposure, workers were told the paint was harmless and were instructed to lick the brushes in order to give them a fine tip.

Some workers even applied the glowing paint to their fingernails, face, and teeth. Workers began showing signs of radium poisoning in the 1920s, resulting in prolonged litigation and unprecedented media coverage of the devastating effects of occupational radium poisoning.

A Legacy of Safety Reform

Both of these tragic incidents shone spotlights on the importance of workplace safety reform, leading to state and federal safety regulations and, ultimately, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the federal agency tasked with ensuring safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance.

Today, for example, federal law makes covered employers responsible for providing a safe and healthful workplace that is free from serious recognized hazards. This includes ensuring that workplaces have enough unobstructed exits suitably located to enable everyone to get out of the facility quickly in the event of an emergency.

Employers are also required to maintain and allow employees access to their medical and exposure records describing any toxic substances and harmful physical agents to which the employees could have been exposed. 

I never expected my idle podcast scrolling to lead me to a discussion on workplace safety standards, but I am glad that it did. Cheers to Georgia and Karen for highlighting these significant historical events in their podcast, and hooray for heightened occupational safety and health standards in the modern workplace.

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