Statement by Acting Director Christine M. Branche, Ph.D., for Labor Day 2009
Contact: Fred Blosser (202) 245-0645
September 3, 2009
The services on which we depend, the products we consume, and the amenities we often take for granted are possible because of someone’s hard work. Labor Day reminds us to appreciate the individual and collective work that sustains our daily lives.
Labor Day also provides occasion to renew our Nation’s commitment to safe and healthy workplaces for all. Work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths are unacceptable by any measure. We in occupational safety and health are privileged to have a role in preventing these needless tragedies.
Every August, shortly before Labor Day, the release of preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries offers a benchmark for assessing trends in the previous year and planning future strategies. The latest preliminary data show that fatal work-related injuries in 2008 – 5,071 – were fewer than those in the previous year, 5,657. Moreover, the 2008 total was the smallest annual preliminary total since the program began in 1992.
To the extent that this overall decline reflects progress last year and continued progress generally over the last 40 years, it is good news. We in the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) are proud of the contributions we have made with our many partners since our creation in 1970.
At the same time, the new BLS report reinforces the fact that we can never become complacent. Some trends were up despite the overall decline. For example, it is particularly troubling to learn that fatal work injuries for 16- and 17-year-olds were higher in 2008. We all must and can do more to make sure that our teenaged daughters, sons, nieces, and nephews – our next generation of leaders – have safe work environments.
The BLS report also highlights an important consideration for our nation’s economic recovery. BLS speculates that last year’s decline in work-related deaths may be associated in some measure with declines in average hours worked in 2008 . BLS also speculates that there may be an association with employment declines last year in some industries that, historically, have accounted for a significant share of occupational fatalities, such as construction.
As we reboot our economy, we must take care that full employment also means safe employment. NIOSH is committed to the research and partnerships that will help to better control persistent hazards in traditional industries, to strengthen health care by preventing costly occupational injuries and illnesses, and to build safety and health integrally into the emerging industries of the 21st Century such as nanotechnology and green businesses. Occupational safety and health is a critical thread in our fabric of economic growth and security.
Fundamentally, we must never forget that any work-related death, injury, or illness is one too many. On Labor Day, we all hope and strive for a time in which no one will suffer death, impairment, or pain on the job.