Dam safety; History; Industrial hygiene; Industrial safety; New Deal, 1933-1939; United States – Hoover Dam


Although a memorial plaque at the Hoover Dam sets the number of workers killed during its construction at ninety-six, the real figure was nearly double. In fact, the figure would have been much higher had it not been for the precedent-setting effort by the federal government, contactors, and workers to save as many lives as possible on the project. Aside from its long unrecognized value as a jobs program, much needed stimulus to the fledging Las Vegas economy, and status as one of the “man-made wonders of the world,” Hoover Dam represented a major step forward for the American occupational health movement. Even though construction began during the last years of Republican rule, a time generally considered to be devoid of government intervention in behalf of labor, a variety of factors combined to make the project a crucial turning point in the history of occupational health care. Joseph Stevens, Dennis McBride, and other historians of the dam have briefly described health conditions and the efforts undertaken to promote health, but none has emphasized this watershed effect and how the project’s considerable health risks forced the federal government to prod Six Companies Inc., to undertake major initiatives to protect workers on the job. Eventually, the contractor developed a system to provide job-related healthcare on the dam site and in Boulder City before the New Deal, actions which boosted the entire occupational health movement.