Wisconsin Department of Commerce Newsletter
June 2006
Wisconsin at Forefront in History of Building Safety

"Building Safety Week, which was held May 7 - 13, recognized the importance of safe buildings and the professionals who work to promote building safety in our communities," said Department of Commerce Secretary Mary P. Burke.

The State of Wisconsin has had some notable contributions in the area of ensuring public safety during the past 140 years, including:

  • In 1845, three years before Wisconsin became a state, Milwaukee residents formed a committee to address fire prevention.
  • In 1867, Wisconsin became the first state to enact any sort of worker safety law. The 1867 law barred employers from forcing women and children to work more than eight hours a day (though they could still require work seven days a week!) Though limited, it paved the way for future laws regarding the safety of buildings and the people who occupied them.
  • In 1884, the Wisconsin Bureau of Labor Statistics published its first labor statistics report. Among the questions in the report were:
    1. What height are your buildings?
    2. Are they wood, brick or stone?
    3. Have you fire escapes?
    4. Have you apparatus for extinguishing fires?
  • The Wisconsin Industrial Commission was formed by the Wisconsin Safe Place Statute of 1911.
  • Reacting to accidents and fatalities, the state's first elevator code was enacted in 1913.
  • Recognizing that free flowing sewage was not desirable, in 1914 a law passed that required all plumbing done in cities of the first, second and third class to be done by state licensed plumbers.
  • By 1925, the largest department of the Industrial Commission was the Safety and Sanitation Department, taking up one-third of the Commission's total appropriation.
  • In 2005 the Home Safety Act required statewide enforcement of the Uniform Dwelling Code (enacted in 1980) to require 100% enforcement of all new 1 & 2 family homes. The original UDC was enforced primarily in localities with more than 2,500 residents.

To view snippets of the entire 140 history of building safety, visit the Safety & Buildings Division on the fourth floor, where staff members have covered the walls with highlights from more than a century.

-- Barbro McGinn

The newsletter is issued electronically every other month.

Please send comments or questions to Barbro McGinn, editor.

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