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Labor Day 2016: A Statement by NIOSH Director John Howard, MD

Posted on by John Howard, M.D.

To many, Labor Day signifies the end of summer vacations, the beginning of a new school year or a time to find bargains. It’s important to remember Labor Day is much more than just a retail holiday or a day off of work. We must not forget it is a day to celebrate workers—from teachers to retail workers, from stockbrokers to commercial fisherman—for their contribution to America’s strength and prosperity.

The best way we, in the occupational safety and health community, can honor workers today and throughout the year, is to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for every man and woman—young and old alike. In many ways, the proverb, “it takes a village” rings true as we pursue this mission. The decreases we’ve seen in workplace injuries and deaths over the last few decades can likely be attributed to the combined efforts of employers, workers, federal agencies, unions, trade associations and many others.

Successful partnerships are the cornerstone of the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA), which was established by NIOSH in 1996. NORA is a research framework, both for NIOSH and the nation, designed to stimulate innovative research and improved workplace practices. Come this fall, we will mark the end of the second decade of this initiative and usher in the third with an enhanced collaborative structure intended to continue our joint efforts to address major health and safety issues affecting workers. We look forward to collaborating with current and new partners as we move forward to the next decade and beyond.

NORA has become an example of how public and private partnerships can work together to chart a course for occupational safety and health by identifying the most critical issues in workplace safety and health and working together to move research into practice. An illustration of this is NIOSH’s newly established Center for Maritime Safety and Health Studies. The virtual Center is a hub for intramural research and a point from which to expand partnerships with stakeholders worldwide to address health and safety issues in an industry where workers still face a high risk of fatal injury.

This past year we’ve also looked at new and different worker groups. Data has shown us that workers over the age of 55, which now make up a quarter of the workforce, are projected to become a significant segment of the labor force. NIOSH launched the National Center for Productive Aging at Work to develop a research plan for improving the safety and health of workers of all ages, facilitate collaboration among researchers and partners, develop new interventions, and highlight best practices for creating “aging-friendly” workplaces.

On the other end of the age spectrum, young workers are more likely to be injured at work than their older counterparts. Partnerships with school districts nationwide are allowing us to introduce a curriculum called Youth @ Work: Talking Safety to help educate young people about the basics of job safety and health. More than 6,000 8th graders in Miami-Dade County (FL) public schools have been trained and thanks to a new partnership with West Virginia University, children in the Monongalia County School System in West Virginia are learning these important lessons as they return to class this fall.

Throughout history, workers have overcome many challenges. In this modern era, safety and health shouldn’t be one of them. That is why this Labor Day, and every day, NIOSH carries out its mission to ensure all workers have a safe and healthy workplace. We can’t do it alone, so I also thank our partners and stakeholders who help make achieving our mission possible and I look forward to all that we will accomplish together over the next decade.

John Howard, M.D.

Director, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

Posted on by John Howard, M.D.

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