Statement for Labor Day 2007 by NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D.
Contact: Fred Blosser (202) 245-0645
August 29, 2007
In 1882, 10,000 working people and their families gathered in New York City to celebrate the first-ever Labor Day parade. The face of the economy then was strikingly different from today’s. More than half of the country’s working men and women were employed in agriculture. Manufacturing had not yet become the driving force that would lift the U.S. to preeminence in the world market over the following century. The service industry was tiny in size compared with today’s multi-faceted giant.
No one that day could have predicted that the Help Wanted ads of 2007 would be filled with terms such as IT Specialist, Bioelectronics Engineer, Home Health Care Assistant, and Barista.
Sweeping changes have occurred in the U.S. economy in the 125 years since that first Labor Day, and many accomplishments have been made through hard work and innovation. Among those achievements, one advance is particularly gratifying. Overall, the burden of work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths has declined greatly. Scientific research has played a vital part in this success.
This is not to say that all has been done that needs to be done, or that our charge as occupational safety and health professionals has become any simpler. If anything, it has become more and more challenging.
New industries come into being, involving materials or processes whose health and safety implications are little understood at the outset. These uncertainties pose questions that need to be answered, to ensure that progress does not come at an unacceptable human cost.
At the same time, as new technologies, new demographics, and new market demands transform traditional industries, new concerns about risks in age-old occupations are introduced. Overall, mining is significantly safer than it was a century ago, but as the tragic events of the past two years demonstrate, strategic research remains vital for the safety and health of men and women who work inside the earth.
On Labor Day, we salute the spirit of pride and accomplishment that characterizes the U.S. workforce. As we do so, let us also renew our dedication to ensuring that every workplace is a safe and healthy workplace.