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What are some of the biggest workplace accidents in history?

"American Experience," a television show airing on PBS in some areas, provides some information about some of the deadliest workplace accidents in American history. The earliest accident recorded on the show's timeline took place in 1860 in another state. The incident occurred when a factory collapsed, injuring 166 people and killing another 145.

Another enormous tragedy occurred in 1900 when a coal mine accident took the lives of 200 workers. The accident involved two dozen kegs of black powder, which exploded. Seven years later, a explosion in a different mine across the country killed almost all of the boys and men working underground. Reportedly, 380 people were working at the mine that day and 362 died.

One recorded accident sounds bizarre to modern ears. It involved a storage tank of molasses breaking. The tank poured millions of gallons onto the city where it was, causing what is now known as the Great Molasses Flood. The flood killed 21 people and injured 150.

In 1947, a ship ported on the coast of Texas was holding thousands of gallons ammonium nitrate. Part of the ship caught fire and it exploded. In all, 581 people died.

In the early part of the 20th century, many of the worst accident reported across the country had to do with mining operations. In the later half of the century, large workplace accidents were often associated with the oil industry. A 1988 offshore oil rig explosion took the lives of 167; in Texas in 2005, 15 people died in a refinery explosion that also injured 170.

While catastrophic accidents still do occur from time to time, they seem to be less frequent than in past centuries. The risks to employees still do exist, especially in certain industries. Today, modern laws and agencies do offer legal options for employees who need compensation for medical bills and other losses when they are injured in the workplace.

Source: American Experience, PBS, "Timeline: Deadliest Workplace Accidents," accessed Nov. 08, 2015

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