Statement for Labor Day 2008 by NIOSH Acting Director Christine M. Branche, Ph.D.
Contact: Fred Blosser
August 28, 2008
The face of work has changed a great deal from when we first began celebrating Labor Day back in 1882. Starting with the turn of the 20th century and World Wars I & II, women began to play an increasingly important role in the workforce, taking on many jobs and that had been traditionally done by men. Immigration has also changed how the workforce looks in the U.S., from the influx of immigrants and refugees that began back in the 1800’s to today’s immigrants and refugees from across the globe. Each of these groups has brought with them their unique cultures and experiences.
With this changing face of work come new opportunities for examining how to make the workplace safer for workers. Language, cultural and experiential barriers can challenge occupational safety and health professionals in finding new ways to protect and educate workers. Even the changing features of the U.S. population have pushed researchers to look at how to adapt protective gear such as respirators to ensure it fits properly.
Occupational safety and health professionals have lived up to this challenge, and recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has shown that we have made great strides in protecting workers from fatal work injuries and illnesses. According to the “2007 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries,” the total number of fatal work injuries recorded in the U.S. decreased from 5,840 in 2006 to 5,488 in 2007, a six percent drop. The news was especially good for transportation-related incidents, which experienced a substantial decrease in incidents in 2007 compared to 2006. Fatalities in the construction industry also decreased, as did fatal injuries among workers in agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting.
These decreases are welcomed news and a signal that in many ways we have begun to make serious inroads in making workplaces safer. The report, however, also shows that there is much still left to be addressed. The number of workplace homicides increased by 13 percent and fatal falls also increased. Workers in the fishing, logging, iron and steel industries and pilots continue to suffer the highest fatality rates. And despite the decline in fatalities in construction, the industry still incurs the largest number of fatalities of any industry in the private sector according to the BLS report.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is working to ensure that these challenges, the persistent and emerging ones alike, are met. Through the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA), NIOSH is working closely with partners and stakeholders to stimulate innovative research to determine priorities in addressing the current and future challenges to protecting workers. In July, NIOSH hosted the 2008 NORA Symposium in Denver, where we reviewed and celebrated the incredible work being done, and came together to discuss our goals for both the short- and long-term. The meeting also included a Virtual Symposium, where those who were not able to attend in person were able to provide their input on the process. You can still join us in this virtual meeting by going to http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/nora/symp08/virtualsymposium.html.
Our increasingly national diversity has brought with it many challenges and many benefits to our workforce. As we celebrate Labor Day this year, please take the time to think of all the contributions that have been made over many years to pave the way for us, appreciate the foundation of hard work on which America is built, and join us as we look forward to tackling our new challenges.
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