Editorial: Starting the New Year Off Wrong

Jan. 26, 2006
It's January, and time for New Year's resolutions.

The first day back in the office after Jan. 1 is a time for celebration, banter about the "Holiday 5 or 10 (pounds)" gained and discussions of the merits of New Year's resolutions.

This year was different. We returned to news coverage of the terrible tragedy that occurred in the Sago coal mine in West Virginia. My grandfather for many years was a coal miner in a West Virginia mine that is not far from the Sago Mine, logistically or philosophically. I can remember his stories of near-misses in cave-ins and I've heard firsthand the chilling sound of church bells tolling for trapped miners.

Whenever I hear of such a tragedy occurring and one death, one serious injury is a tragedy I'm reminded of the true mission of this magazine. Our mission is not to write articles or sell ads; that's our job. Our mission is to promote safe working conditions. We do this by providing our readers with accurate, thorough information about best practices and products and services related to safety management; employee training; PPE; monitoring and instrumentation; mining, construction, manufacturing, transportation, chemical and electrical safety; emergency response; environmental management; risk management; compliance; confined space entry; fall protection; respiratory protection; software; and a host of other topics found between the covers of Occupational Hazards.

As safety professionals, industrial hygienists, occupational health professionals, risk and environmental managers and others who promote workplace health and safety, you epitomize our mission. You are the advocates for safety in the workplace.

U.S. workers labor in unsafe conditions every day and the causes are myriad. Sometimes management is willing to risk OSHA violations and workplace tragedies if it means keeping production going. Sometimes workers act in an unsafe manner. Sometimes the agencies that are charged with protecting workers let them down.

You cannot let them down. You might, like me, be sporting that "Holiday 10," but to workers, you still represent every superhero known to the League of Justice rolled into one. (And anyone worker, manager, federal official or safety professional who advocates for safety loud enough and long enough to compel change is a superhero in my book.)

Let's make this joint New Year's resolution (and apologies to the many of you who don't need to make this resolution because you do it every day already): We will speak up and advocate for safety with workers, management and federal and state governments. We will speak up when we see safety being ignored, no matter who's ignoring it.

The investigation of the Sago tragedy will continue for months. Families will question and rightly so why their loved ones died.

It's time for me to advocate and I'll do it with a tool of my trade, a question: Where were the superheroes in a mine that logged 208 occupational safety and health citations, orders and safeguards in 2005 and had an injury rate more than three times the national average?

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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