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Radium Girls Horrific Injuries Occupational Disease Laws Beginning


The Radium Girls and Occupational Disease Laws

The term Radium Girls represents a defining moment of Occupational disease laws for Workers Compensation.  Occupational disease calculations have been the bane of many actuaries and underwriters.

The  Incurred But Not Reported (IBNR) injuries are extremely hard to estimate in the area of occupational disease.   The WC laws often allow a claim long after an exposure “upon discovery of the disease.”

Picture Of Radium Girls Occupational Disease Laws Black And White Color
Wikipedia – Unknown author

A recent TV show covered the harrowing injuries received by the Radium Girls.  In 1917, over 4,000 women were hired to paint watch faces by US Radium.  The narrator pointed out most of the women were watch face painters.  The soldiers in World War II could see the painted watch faces in the dark.  The glow-in-the-dark watch faces were sometimes critical for their survival.

The highly radioactive paint was ingested by the workers as they would sharpen the brush with their lips after each face was painted.  Ingesting over 200 small doses of radiation per day resulted in horrible injuries.  Most women lost their complete lower jawbone as it would basically separate from their skull.

Googling radium ads around the turn of the century showed that radium was safe and was often used in over the counter medicine.  Even though Madam Curie gave out a warning with her discovery, it was oft ignored by the public.

The most striking part of the TV documentary was when one of the women was painting the radium paint or her fingernails and teeth to impress her boyfriend/husband.

Picture Woman with Thermometer in Mouth Suffering from Occupational Disease Laws for Workers Compensation
(c) stockunlimited

Six of the women sued US Radium. The pre-trial settlement amount for each woman was $133,000 (today’s dollars) + an annuity of $600  + lifetime medical care. The press covered the events following up to the trial very heavily.

The publicity from the lawsuit became a factor in the establishment of occupational disease laws.  The radium paint was used until the mid-1960’s.

The radium dial painters never sustained any more occupational diseases as their employers:

  • Instructed them to never touch the paint along with other precautions
  • Provided them with protective gear
  • Proved the disease was 100% preventable

This picture of the Radium Girls at work is chilling.  This pic showing the radium paint resulting in radium jaw is almost macabre. There are many sources of reading material on this turn of the century tragedy. Wikipedia has a great list of reading material on this subject.

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James J Moore - Workers Comp Expert

Raleigh, NC, United States

About The Author...

James founded a Workers’ Compensation consulting firm, J&L Risk Management Consultants, Inc. in 1996. J&L’s mission is to reduce our clients’ Workers Compensation premiums by using time-tested techniques. J&L’s claims, premium, reserve and Experience Mod reviews have saved employers over $9.8 million in earned premiums over the last three years. J&L has saved numerous companies from bankruptcy proceedings as a result of insurance overpayments.

James has over 27 years of experience in insurance claims, audit, and underwriting, specializing in Workers’ Compensation. He has supervised, and managed the administration of Workers’ Compensation claims, and underwriting in over 45 states. His professional experience includes being the Director of Risk Management for the North Carolina School Boards Association. He created a very successful Workers’ Compensation Injury Rehabilitation Unit for school personnel.

James’s educational background, which centered on computer technology, culminated in earning a Masters of Business Administration (MBA); an Associate in Claims designation (AIC); and an Associate in Risk Management designation (ARM). He is a Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) and a licensed financial advisor. The NC Department of Insurance has certified him as an insurance instructor. He also possesses a Bachelors’ Degree in Actuarial Science.

LexisNexis has twice recognized his blog as one of the Top 25 Blogs on Workers’ Compensation. J&L has been listed in AM Best’s Preferred Providers Directory for Insurance Experts – Workers Compensation for over eight years. He recently won the prestigious Baucom Shine Lifetime Achievement Award for his volunteer contributions to the area of risk management and safety. James was recently named as an instructor for the prestigious Insurance Academy.

James is on the Board of Directors and Treasurer of the North Carolina Mid-State Safety Council. He has published two manuals on Workers’ Compensation and three different claims processing manuals. He has also written and has been quoted in numerous articles on reducing Workers’ Compensation costs for public and private employers. James publishes a weekly newsletter with 7,000 readers.

He currently possess press credentials and am invited to various national Workers Compensation conferences as a reporter.

James’s articles or interviews on Workers’ Compensation have appeared in the following publications or websites:

  • Risk and Insurance Management Society (RIMS)
  • Entrepreneur Magazine
  • Bloomberg Business News
  • WorkCompCentral.com
  • Claims Magazine
  • Risk & Insurance Magazine
  • Insurance Journal
  • Workers Compensation.com
  • LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites
  • Various trade publications


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