April 26th, 2013 9:00 am ET - John Howard, MD
On Workers Memorial Day, we honor the men and women who suffered work-related injury, illness, and death, and we rededicate ourselves to the mission of preventing future tragedies. Earning a day’s pay should not place anyone at risk of losing life or livelihood.
Thanks to a concerted partnership of labor, industry, government, science, and public opinion, great strides have been made in reducing the burden of workplace injury and disease over the last century. Since 1913, the toll of work-related deaths has fallen by some 80 percent.
In 2013, occupational safety and health professionals strive to continue that progress. It is important to recognize that progress is only a relative term as long as anyone faces a risk to life or wellbeing at work. We must eliminate for good the legacy hazards of the 20th Century. We must also embrace a new 21st Century paradigm in which worker health and safety are fully incorporated into the design, start-up, and lifespan of new businesses, industries, structures, work processes, and technologies.
Falls are a basic cause of serious injury and death at work, and they continue to impose human and economic costs on the construction industry. Financial experts agree that a robust construction industry is a key ingredient for sustained economic recovery and growth. A robust industry must be free of injuries that impair and kill workers. On April 28, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and its diverse partners will re-launch their national information and media campaign to prevent falls, fall-related injuries, and fall-related deaths in construction.
As the market for nanotechnology expands, scientists and engineers have a historic opportunity to design prudent exposure-control measures into the processes by which carbon nanotubes and other nanomaterials are manufactured and incorporated into final products. NIOSH’s Current Intelligence Bulletin on carbon nanotubes and carbon nanofibers, issued this week, provides model recommendations that will support the safe growth of nanotechnology as scientists continue complex research to fully understand its occupational safety and health implications. In this way, we advance beyond the 20th Century practice of introducing new materials into the workplace and only later, as an afterthought, considering questions of worker risk.
Today, the workforce is increasingly diverse in age, gender, race, and ethnicity. Employers on average are likely to be smaller and less likely to have in-house safety and health services than the average employer of the last generation. Traditional 9-to-5 working schedules and benefits are increasingly rare. Business is increasingly globalized. Workplace safety encompasses emergency preparedness and response. We must continue to find solutions that address those realities and which recognize the many ways in which maintaining a safe and healthy workforce benefits everyone in the modern economy. More and more, we see great opportunities in combining programs that address work-related hazards and workplace-based health promotion. NIOSH’s Total Worker Health program with diverse partners is designed to realize those opportunities.
On Workers Memorial Day 2013, we pause to pay respect to those who suffered occupational injury, illness, and death, and we work toward a day when such tragedies are a thing of the past.
John Howard, M.D.
Dr. Howard is the Director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health