The 20th century saw a major drop in the number of fatal accidents and injuries in just about every occupation. Part of it, according to the Economic History Association, can be credited to advances that diminished the risks commonly faced from unruly animals, dangerous hand tools and rickety ladders a hundred years ago, as well as a gradual shift in jobs from the relatively dangerous production of goods to comparatively safer ones, like retail sales or office work.
While work-related accidents were much more common pre-20th century, they were also comparatively cheap, at least from the employer’s perspective. An injured worker or their family could sue the employer for damages but winning in court proved very difficult. According to the article cited above, surveys taken around 1900 found that only about half of all workers fatally injured recovered anything at all. When they did, the average compensation amounted to only six-months pay. That’s changed.