August 28th, 2014 9:29 am ET - John Howard, M.D.
On Labor Day 2014, we reflect on the ways in which work sustains us as individuals, strengthens our families and communities, and enables our society to function smoothly and productively. We see this in our daily lives. On any given morning, as a working parent or caregiver, you may drop your child off at school or daycare, tend to the needs of an elderly mother or father, and drive through traffic to attend a crucial meeting on time. At work, you put in extra hours to make sure a project is completed on schedule. Later, you may stop to pick up groceries on the way home, and after dinner you may tackle additional work on the computer before bedtime.
In all, according to government statistics, 146,352,000 men and women are employed in the U.S. A critical factor in anyone’s ability to do a job well, and to effectively balance often hectic daily routines, is the confidence that workplaces are safe, healthy, and secure. This holds true whether it is your own workplace or your child’s daycare center, the neighborhood store and its suppliers, or the highway work zone that you pass at rush hour.
We in the occupational safety and health community have the responsibility and privilege of helping to make sure that working people, throughout their careers, enjoy lives free from pain, impairment, and potentially the risk of death associated with job-related injury and illness. Research of the kind performed and supported by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and its diverse partners drives informed decision-making and produces new tools and practices to help realize that goal.
Our priorities reflect the realities of today’s working world, which is more diverse, innovative, and globalized than ever before:
- New technologies enter today’s workplaces at a rapid pace. Understanding their implications for occupational safety and health is vital for supporting safe, sustainable economic growth. At the same time, new tools and communication networks offer great promise for faster, more effective identification and management of occupational risks.
- Perhaps more than ever before in history, working life often is inseparable from life off the job. Many of us balance crowded, sometimes headache-inducing schedules spanning work and home. With greater insight into ways in which job-related stress and health may intersect, we can better inform policies that help companies stay productive while supporting a robust and able workforce. Similarly, partnerships under Total Worker Health™ provide opportunities for addressing workplace health and personal health in totality for better results, rather than considering one in isolation from the other.
- The world is smaller than ever before, thanks to modern transportation and communications. As a result, large corporations are spread out across many countries, channels of distribution stretch from factories in China and India to storefronts in your home town, and risks for emerging infectious diseases can travel across borders and oceans with the speed of an airline ticket. Research is an essential step for addressing the health and safety implications of these aspects of modern business.
- In contrast to yesterday’s largely homogeneous workforce, today’s workforce is widely varied in age, race, and ethnicity, and is expected to become more so. There are nearly as many women as men in the U.S. workforce, overall, and in some key professions in the education and medical fields, the proportion of women is far larger than the proportion of men. This diversity means that we have had to rethink yesterday’s standards for fitting personal protective gear to the worker, and yesterday’s strategies for workplace safety and health training, among other considerations. This is another function of research.
This Labor Day, I encourage you to reflect on the importance of preventing job-related injury, illness, and death, and to consider ways in which you can support that national mission.
John Howard, M.D.
Director, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health