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The Hawks Nest Tunnel Silicosis Disaster: Exposing Occupational Diseases

One thing is certain when an economic crisis hits – jobs become scarce and people become desperate for work. This was especially true during the Great Depression, when unemployment in the United States averaged 25%. As the need for jobs increased, not only were more workers willing to take riskier employment, fewer employers were making the effort to ensure worker safety. Few events highlight this more than the Hawks Nest Tunnel disaster where hundreds of workers died or were sickened by exposure to silica dust. This tragedy not only raised awareness of silicosis, a dangerous occupational disease, but helped to improve safety standards and working conditions for all workers today.

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