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Workers Memorial Day 2011

Posted on by John Howard, MD

Work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths have devastating consequences. This terrible toll is perhaps most visible to the general public in the aftermath of large-scale disasters that claim multiple lives. Workers Memorial Day, April 28, reminds us that the tragedies of work-related death, disability, impairment, and pain also occur, and indeed more commonly occur, outside the daily headlines and hourly news feeds. It reminds us to pay tribute to those who needlessly have lost lives or livelihoods. It reminds us of our shared duty to keep workers from harm.

This year, Workers Memorial Day also marks the 40th Anniversary of NIOSH and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. While significant progress has occurred since 1971, much more remains to be made. Even as we continue efforts to eliminate the legacy hazards of the 20th Century, we are also called to address the emerging challenges of the 21st Century economy, including:

  • The health and safety needs of an increasingly diverse workforce, which differ in significant ways from those of the predominantly Caucasian, predominantly male demographic that characterized the U.S. workforce of 1971. As more and more chronologically gifted workers are on the job, we must be aware of the unique challenges they face, and design our health and safety interventions accordingly. As more and more immigrant, contingent, temporary, and contract workers join our payrolls, we must be aware that they are more likely on average to hold inherently hazardous jobs, and that they and their families are especially vulnerable to a loss of livelihood or income. No one should face the prospect of injury, illness, exploitation, or death in earning a paycheck.
  • The introduction of new technologies whose health and safety implications are unknown or little understood. We must heed the lessons of the 20th Century, and couple the development of beneficial new products or processes with responsible risk assessment and risk control.
  • The threats of large-scale disasters, whether natural or human in origin. Emergency preparedness and response has become an inherent function for occupational safety and health professionals.
  • Dramatic changes in work organization, scheduling, and resource allocation that often mean faster, more physically demanding, and more irregularly scheduled work for individuals. Having an efficient, motivated, and competitive workforce requires that we identify and address risk factors for work-related stress and fatigue.

The fact that we must meet these challenges as we also rebuild our economy means that we do not have the luxury of the resources that come with “flush times,” to use Mark Twain’s phrase. Consequently, we have to pursue our mission strategically and collaboratively. At the same time, economic recovery also offers the opportunity to demonstrate that good health and safety practices benefit industry and society economically. By reducing the toll of injury and illness, businesses can reduce the costs of workers’ compensation, disability, hours of work missed, and other losses that amount nationally to billions of dollars every year.

On Workers Memorial Day 2011, we look forward to a future in which every job is a safe job, and no one comes to harm at work.

Dr. Howard is the Director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Posted on by John Howard, MD

9 comments on “Workers Memorial Day 2011”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    NIOSH is really a great organization, and I hope they continue to do their work at the highest level. 9 years ago, my uncle passed away from a tractor accident.

    I enjoyed reading this article, I shall send it on to my family. I’m sure they’ll be pleased to read it.

    Keep up the good work. We can all play our part, one small step from each of us can bring us home safely and healthy at the end of each workday. Then we can come back tomorrow to do it again.

    This program has definitely made an impact on the quality of life for me.

    I worked two year for [company name] 1982-84. The [name removed] Missle Radars were fired up live 10 feet from the cinder block wall which was 8 feet from where I was working as Weapons Specialist. Two years tax free 50K yearly seemed a GOOD IDEA at that time. Now I am left with scarred lungs, white web like appearances on my chest X-rays. Only a lung biopsy may prove what caused this scarring or it would be diagnosed as Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. I have survived Guillain-Barre Syndrome complete paralysis January 23, 2007 left hospital in a wheel chair March 29, 2007.

    Returned to work July 2007 100 per cent recovered. It takes losing a priviilege like this to appreciate what it is worth. Thank You, Karl

    Good work NIOSH. However, in practice how many times have any of us seen a patient that was injured on the job several years ago and that injury was mismanaged. I can’t count the times that the employee did not receive the best care but instead got the doctor who was in the tank for the company and now is left with the consequences. We need to standardize workers comp care with specific outcome measures that all docs and companies are held to. Then the worker will truly be protected. I’m a Madison AL Chiropractor, and I for one am tired of cleaning up work comp messes.

    “By reducing the toll of injury and illness (though proper care), businesses can reduce the costs of workers’ compensation, disability, hours of work missed, and other losses that amount nationally to billions of dollars every year.”

    It would be nice to have posters or some signage to post in workplaces, centers for higher learning, safety and health centers, and occupational training centers. Is there one posted somewhere that I am just missing?

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