JAMA 100 Years Ago Section Editor: Jennifer Reiling, Assistant Editor.
The average American gives so little heed to the vast economic waste that goes on yearly, due to the maiming or killing of workmen, that is has become a trite truism that in the United States the cheapest commodity on the market is human life. That this should be so is a grave economic, not to say social, error. Far-sighted employers are beginning to realize that the warp and woof of our economic fabric is weakened and destroyed when working conditions are such as to be a standing menace to the life and safety of the workers. Not only in the operation of machinery, however, is there danger. The exigencies of modern industrial life have produced many trades that are distinctly dangerous to the workers in them. . . . We feel, therefore, that the exposition which was held recently in New York City,2 where were shown the many devices on the market for the protection to life and limb of industrial workers, was most opportune. It is high time that the indifferent public be awakened to the enormous loss entailed by these needless sacrifices. Men are of more value than things—life is a greater asset than property—and any nation that persists in remaining blind to these facts must sooner or later fall behind in the race for commercial supremacy. Concretely it may be worth remembering that in New York City alone there is a daily average of nine violent deaths from preventable causes. In the United States, declares the American Institute for Social Service, we kill in industrial accidents every four years 80,000 more people than fell in battle and died of wounds on both sides during the four years of the Civil War. These figures help us to realize the price we pay for our commercial prosperity and give some idea of our wasteful prodigality in that plentiful commodity—human life. Devices that lessen the liability to accident and expositions that awaken the public conscience to the need of the installment of such devices are to be welcomed. It is to be hoped that the time is not far distant when the worker in the mine or in the factory may earn his living with a reasonable degree of safety to life and limb.
THE ECONOMIC VALUE OF LIFE. JAMA. 2007;297(7):753. doi:10.1001/jama.297.7.753-b
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