The sad story of the Radium Girls is often forgotten yet resonates through modern employee compensation litigation. These women worked at three factories in the 1910s and 1920s, using self-luminous paint to adorn wristwatches. Their experiences and resulting illnesses from handling radium are one of the earliest examples of workers’ rights and corporations being made responsible for endangering employees.
Who Were the Radium Girls?
The “Radium Girls” is a common but reductive name for the women who worked at three different factories painting radium-lit watch faces. The large U.S. Radium Corporation misled these factory workers by claiming that radium was safe to handle. They had a large defense contract with the U.S. military to provide radioluminescent watches for military personnel.
The U.S. Radium Corporation hired women to handle radium as a part of their job description, maintaining that it was a safe task. Meanwhile, the corporate owners, managers, and staff scientists avoided any exposure to the dangerous element.
These factory workers were paid based on their productivity, and the fastest way to paint many watch-dial faces was to use an old-fashioned camelhair paintbrush and put a fine tip on it using your lips. The factory workers basically had to consume trace amounts of radium to earn steady money and were even encouraged in this practice by supervisors for a time.
The Dangers of Radium
Radium is an alkaline earth metal and is an element on its own. It is quite rare and has strong radioactive properties. The radioactivity made it an obvious choice for early experimentation with radiation and made it useful in many applications. Radium was used in early cancer treatments, which led the general public to regard it as a miracle substance. It had only been discovered around twenty years before the Radium Girls handled it.
Radium was swiftly added to a wide range of products based on the mythical aura surrounding it. It was even put into products that came into direct contact with people, like cosmetics and toothpaste. The luminescent paint used in the U.S. Radium Corporation factories was applied like nail polish by the workers, who believed it a safe and fun chemical.
The radiation sickness that stems from handling radium, though, is extremely insidious and dangerous. It is the result of radiation levels slowly rising in a person’s system to the point that the radiation begins to harm and destroy the cellular structure. Mild exposures can often take a long time to develop symptoms or have a wave of initial symptoms that pass before new, more dangerous signs of radiation sickness appear.
The resulting litigation from the abuse of the Radium Girls shaped the way the law treats employees with job-related illnesses and injuries. The Radium Girls’ cases set early precedents that are still used to combat dangerous working conditions.
Now, the United States also has the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which oversees working conditions for everyone. An OSHA violation can halt a business in its tracks since now workers have more rights to a clean and safe work environment.
Modern Workers’ Compensation Laws
Workers’ compensation laws currently provide significant protection for full-time employees in most fields. If you need a South Carolina workers’ compensation attorney, now there are plenty of options.
Some corporations are still adept at putting their employees in hazardous or stressful situations, although there are more protections in place in American laws. Recent cases include the practices of Amazon in their warehouses, as they force employees to work long “megacycles” that fatigue employees and puts them at a higher risk of injury.
Your Work Environment
If you think your workplace has OSHA violations or you have experienced a work-related injury or illness, you must file a workers’ compensation quickly if you want a chance at successful compensation. You can report your company or file a claim easier with the professional expertise of an attorney.
Author’s Bio Sarah Douglass
Sarah Douglass has been writing all her life. What started as a passion soon became her life goal. At such a young age, she has already faced and overcame many obstacles. The instinct she developed through her life experience is coupled with an in-depth knowledge of the legal field. Sarah sees writing as a means to connect to others and help them overcome hard times