Workers Memorial Day, April 28, reminds us that every death, injury, or illness on the job represents a human tragedy. Behind each statistic is the loss of a loved one’s life, the diminution or loss of a father’s or mother’s ability to provide for family needs, or a medical crisis that can have lifelong consequences.
Workers Memorial Day has been observed in the U.S. since 1989. In those 25 years, which span the end of one century and the beginning of another, many things have changed in our society. New generations of men and women have entered the workforce. New industries have emerged. New technologies and demographic trends have transformed the economy.
As we look at the changing landscape, two challenges emerge. While the nation has done much since 1989 to reduce the toll of occupational hazards, much more remains to be accomplished. Some hazards that have existed since the dawn of human industry still claim lives and livelihoods. In this regard, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is proud to join again this year with our numerous partners in the public and private sectors in our joint national campaign to end fall hazards. At the same time, we are employing 21st Century technologies as new tools to drive innovative preventive measures, such as our new mobile app for ladder safety.
In other cases, today’s changing landscape presents new concerns that were undreamed-of 25 years ago. Relatively unknown in 1989, nanotechnology today drives an industry that accounted for $251 billion across the global economy in 2009, and is projected to grow to $2.4 trillion by 2015. NIOSH and its partners support the safe growth of this technology through state-of-the-art science to assess the risks of work-related exposures to novel, nano-sized materials and to apply practical, effective health and safety measures. Our partnerships serve as a model for a modern paradigm of designing worker safety and health into new technologies and industries at early stages.
Similarly, our partnerships in Total Worker Health™ reflect a strategy based on the realities of today’s economy, where working life and private life are closely linked for many of us. By combining worker health protection and work-based health promotion, we can better help working people stay safe, healthy, able, and active in the course of a lifetime.
Threats of large-scale disaster – whether of natural or human origin – demand that occupational safety and health professionals build on and adapt our historic skills to safeguard emergency responders in dangerous, unpredictable environments. The emerging discipline of disaster science research will inform new, evidence-based protocols for keeping responders safe in rescue, recovery, and rebuilding operations.
As we reflect on the many ways in which our lives have changed since the first Workers Memorial Day, we must remember that our duty to prevent work-related injury, illness, and death remains unchanged. It continues to demand our best efforts to make every workplace safe for every working person, every working hour.
John Howard, M.D.
Director, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health