In 1902, Upton Sinclair published a book of fiction, "The Jungle," which told more truth about the American work place than anybody could stand. Among other things, it described packinghouse workers falling off unprotected catwalks and being cooked into lard. Sinclair's book is widely credited with helping establish the Food and Drug Administration and with accelerating efforts to end child labor. It took another story, the ghastly report of the deaths of 146 women and girls in flames at the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. factory in New York, nine years later, to prompt lawmakers to act on safety, however.
Watching the sad toll in Hamlet, N.C., it is all too clear that not enough prompting has yet been done, 88 years after Sinclair sounded the alarm.
North Carolina is not the only state whose occupational safety regulation is less than stringent, to be sure. In Maryland, for one, state Fire Marshall Rocco J. Gabriele's office knows of 40,000 properties needing annual inspections, but has enough staffers to make only 15,000 of those.