Statement by John Howard, M.D., Director, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), For Workers Memorial Day 2012
April 27, 2012
Contact: Christy Spring, (202)245-0633
On April 28, Workers Memorial Day, we honor the men and women who have suffered injury, illness, and death on the job. A recent landmark study estimates that these losses of lives and livelihoods cost our economy at least $250 billion annually. The associated toll in human suffering is impossible to calculate or repay. As Dr. Alice Hamilton observed in the early years of the last century, “What could ‘compensate’ anyone for an amputated leg or a paralyzed arm, or even an attack of lead colic, to say nothing of the loss of a husband or son?”
Great strides have been made in workplace safety and health since Dr. Hamilton and her colleagues began their historic investigations in “the dangerous trades.” Nevertheless, as Workers Memorial Day reminds us, we fall far short of success as long as the cost of any job is an injury, illness, or death that results in physical, financial, or emotional hardship for a worker or a worker’s family.
As the 21st Century heirs of Dr. Hamilton and her associates, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and its partners face these challenges and opportunities:
- Eliminating, once and for all, the legacy occupational hazards of the 20th Century, including traumatic physical injuries and serious health impairments caused by exposures to harmful dusts, fumes, and chemicals.
- Incorporating appropriate health and safety controls as new industries emerge and as new technologies are introduced into the workplace – a critical strategy for remaining strong and competitive in the global market.
- Anticipating and addressing the health and safety implications associated with dramatic changes in the nature of work and the increasing diversity of the U.S. workforce in today’s economy.
- Strengthening the safety and security of the workforce against the threats of injury, illness, and death in large-scale emergencies, whether natural in origin or the result of human action.
- Furthering a culture in which occupational safety and health is recognized and valued as a fundamental component of economic growth and prosperity.
Achieving progress will continue to require concerted effort by many partners, like the teamwork that supports the new “Safety Pays, Falls Cost” campaign. Launched this week by NIOSH and diverse partners, “Safety Pays, Falls Cost” seeks to prevent falls from ladders, scaffolds, and roofs in construction. We look forward to success over the coming weeks and months in addressing this recognized but persistent occupational hazard in one of the cornerstone sectors of the U.S. economy. For now, we ask that all Americans take the occasion of Workers Memorial Day to honor the fallen and to renew our national commitment to safe and healthful workplaces.