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Statements about Workers’ Memorial Day

John Howard, M.D., Director, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)

On April 28, Workers Memorial Day, we honor the men and women who have suffered injury, illness, and death on the job.

A recent, landmark study estimates that these losses of lives and livelihoods cost our economy at least $250 billion annually. The associated toll in human suffering is impossible to calculate or repay. As Dr. Alice Hamilton observed in the early years of the last century, "What could ‘compensate’ anyone for an amputated leg or a paralyzed arm or even an attack of lead colic, to say nothing of the loss of a husband or son?"

Great strides have been made in workplace safety and health since Dr. Hamilton and her colleagues began their historic investigations in "the dangerous trades." Nevertheless, as Workers Memorial Day reminds us, we fall far short of success as long as the cost of any job is an injury, illness or death that results in physical, financial, or emotional hardship for a worker or a worker’s family. As the 21st Century heirs of Dr. Hamilton and her associates, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and its partners face these challenges and opportunities:

  • Eliminating, once and for all, the legacy occupational hazards of the 20th Century, including traumatic physical injuries and serious health impairments caused by exposures to harmful dusts, fumes, and chemicals.
  • Incorporating appropriate health and safety controls as new industries emerge and as new technologies are introduced into the workplace – a critical strategy for remaining strong and competitive in the global market.
  • Anticipating and addressing the health and safety implications associated with dramatic changes in the nature of work and the increasing diversity of the U.S. work force in today’s economy.
  • Strengthening the safety and security of the workforce against the threats of injury, illness and death in large-scale emergencies, whether natural in origin or the result of human action.
  • Furthering a culture in which occupational safety and health is recognized and valued as a fundamental component of economic growth and prosperity.

Achieving progress will continue to require concerted effort by many partners, like the teamwork that supports the new "Safety Pays, Falls Cost" campaign. Launched this week by NIOSH and diverse partners, "Safety Pays, Falls Cost" seeks to prevent falls from ladders, scaffolds and roofs in construction. We look forward to success over the coming weeks and months in addressing this recognized but persistent occupational hazard in one of the cornerstone sectors of the U.S. economy. For now, we ask that all Americans take the occasion of Workers Memorial Day to honor the fallen and to renew our national commitment to safe and healthful workplaces.

Richard Trumka, President, AFL-CIO 

On Workers Memorial Day, we come together to recognize the value of every life and the fundamental dignity of every person. From working in Pennsylvania’s coal mines – just as my father did before me, and his father did before him – I know the fear and uncertainty that comes with not knowing whether you or your loved ones will come home safe at the end of the day. I join working people across the country in standing with the families and communities who have experienced the loss of a great friend, neighbor, mother, father, sister or brother.

While we have made great strides in making our workplaces safer, too many women and men in this country and around the world continue to be hurt or killed on the job. It is horrifying that too many companies are willing to cut corners and sacrifice working Americans’ safety for the sake of increased profits. And that too many politicians are unwilling to support strong enforceable safety and health rules like the OSHA silica rule currently languishing. It’s a disgrace and a dishonor to the millions who have perished, been disabled or made ill while working hard to provide for their families and to serve our communities.

This day and every day, let us remember the millions who have lost their lives and health and honor them by committing to jobs with dignity, respect and safety.

Elizabeth Pullen, CIH, President, American Industrial Hygiene Association

Workers Memorial Day is a day of observation and remembrance. We are aware that our efforts to improve workers’ health and safety will not be complete until workplace injuries and fatalities are eradicated. Until such a day, our members and volunteers will continue to strive for worker safety.

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