2015 Labor Day Message from NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D.
September 4, 2015
Labor Day is a time to reflect upon and honor the contribution by American workers to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. First celebrated in New York City in 1882, Labor Day became an official federal holiday in 1894. While the character of the celebrations has changed over time, Labor Day today remains a yearly national tribute to the workers of our country.
The nature of how we work has changed drastically since we marked that first Labor Day. While the movement away from traditional industries such as farming and manufacturing has been well noted, we also are now seeing a change in the way people are working. With the rise of what’s been termed the “gig economy,” we have seen an increase in the number of freelance and temporary on-demand workers, and a change in the employer-employee relationship.
For some, this new economy of work has provided the benefit of added flexibility to construct a work environment where they control their hours and the tasks they manage. These workers are no longer confined to a factory or office between the hours of 9 to 5. This flexible employment has allowed these workers to find more balance between their professional and personal lives.
The downside of moving towards these new models of work is greater job insecurity and lack of access to established systems and protections that can leave these workers more vulnerable to injury, sickness, and economic downturns.
While the growth of workers out of the “gig economy” is a testament to the ingenuity of entrepreneurs and individuals who are looking to carve out a role in this new world of work whether by choice or necessity, it is important that we also consider how to keep these workers protected. How do we, as occupational safety and health professionals, continue our work to make sure every worker—including independent contractors, temporary, on-call and freelance workers—stays safe and healthy?
In 2014 NIOSH and OSHA took an important step by releasing a joint document of recommended practices for protecting temporary workerspdf icon. This document encourages companies that employ temporary workers to take important steps to ensure that any worker conducting work for them receives safety training and that proper safety and health programs are in place at the worksite.
While this guidance is a good start, we must continue to rethink how we deliver safety and health messages and trainings to workers and employers in the new on-demand economy. NIOSH has begun to expand how we share our research with others by rolling out new smart phone apps and electronic documents, or eDocs, so people can easily access these resources on their mobile devices wherever they are working.
We have come a long way in occupational safety and health to protect workers since the first Labor Day; however, we must recognize the changing landscape of work and strive to adapt to keep workers safe no matter where and how they work.