Safety 2011: Do Americans Care More about Chickens than Workers?

OSHA Administrator Dr. David Michaels and NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard sat down with Diana Stegall of the American Society of Safety Engineers to discuss the focus of the agencies and the role those agencies play in the lives of safety professionals. Believe it or not, the subject of chickens came up.

During the panel discussion, a short film from OSHA, created to commemorate the agency’s 40th anniversary, was shown. The film included comments from former OSHA administrators – such as Eula Bingham, Mort Corn and Thorne Auchtor – as well as Michaels. In some cases, the timeline of the film made it apparent that some OSHA standards were the direct or indirect result of workplace tragedies that made national headlines.

“We need to raise the issue of workplace safety and health to the national level,” said Michaels.

Commenting on the book The Jungle, Michaels noted that as a result of the public outcry after the book was published, food safety standards were put into place. “Upton Sinclair didn’t write [The Jungle] to improve food safety,” said Michaels. “He wrote it to show the working conditions for stockyards workers. ...Upton Sinclair said, ‘I aimed for their hearts and hit their stomachs.’”

To further make his point that workplace safety and health still doesn’t have the national stage like it deserves, Michaels noted the salmonella outbreak in eggs last year, in which 380 million eggs were recalled. “Nobody talked about the working conditions on egg farms,” said Michaels. “We need to convince Americans to care as much about workers as they do chickens.”

A large number of workplace injuries and illnesses go unreported, Michaels acknowledged, referring to a study that found that “for every injury reported on an OSHA log, there were three and a half that went through the workers’ compensation system.” Ideally, the numbers on the OSHA log and the number of injuries and illnesses reported for workers’ compensation medical and leave benefits should match up.

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