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Workers Memorial Day 2008: Statement by John Howard, M.D., Director


NIOSH Update:

Contact: Fred Blosser (202) 245-0645
April 23, 2008

On Workers Memorial Day, April 28, 2008, the nation will mourn fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, children, grandparents, brothers, sisters, and cherished friends who have died from work-related injuries and illnesses. In their memory, we renew our national commitment to make the workplace safer and healthier.

Although much progress has been made since the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970, more remains to be accomplished. Research is a vital part of this national mission, and NIOSH is proud of its role in helping to prevent work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths.

For the general public, the magnitude and impact of the problem perhaps emerge most starkly in the news coverage of workplace calamities in which two, three, four, or more workers die at one time. For occupational safety and health professionals, these catastrophes are compounded by the toll of deaths, disabilities, and impairments that occur with little or no media coverage, individually, every day – wrenching personal tragedies for families and communities.

As we near the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, NIOSH research is increasingly important for maintaining the progress gained so far, and for making further inroads. Work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths continue to occur, and in 2006, the number of work-related fatalities was even higher than previously thought, representing an increase over the number in 2005 rather than a decrease as initially estimated, according to revised estimates announced recently by BLS. The challenges that face all of us are more complex and varied than ever before, and they include these:

  • In traditional industries defined in large part by physical labor – manufacturing, mining, construction, commercial fishing, and agriculture – traumatic injuries and deaths continue to occur. NIOSH is applying the research needed to stimulate, test, and implement more effective interventions.
  • Similarly, work-related illnesses from silica dust, coal mine dust, asbestos, lead, and other toxic contaminants persist. NIOSH works with its partners to monitor incidences and trends, identify populations at risk, and help enable timely prevention and treatment.
  • Education and training continues to be an integral part of workplace safety and health, but evidence suggests that traditional, classroom-based approaches often are not a good fit with today’s increasingly diverse workforce. NIOSH is exploring innovative ways to develop meaningful training and education tools for the new workforce. For example, what approaches will be effective for young workers accustomed to interactive, computer-based or video-based instruction? What approaches will be effective for foreign-born workers, for whom the toll of fatal work injuries reached a record high number in 2006, according to the revised BLS estimates?
  • Today’s economy is driven by new technologies. As we learned from the experience of the 20th Century, strategic research is critical for identifying potential occupational hazards from new technologies and products from the outset, so that prudent safety and health management becomes part and parcel of a growing industry. This is the focus of NIOSH’s strategic research program on the implications of nanotechnology, as one example.
  • In the event of a large-scale disaster, whether one that results from natural causes or one that involves a deliberate act of terrorism, preparedness is essential for safeguarding emergency responders and health-care workers, and for maintaining the continuity of vital services. NIOSH is an active partner in efforts to incorporate occupational safety and health guidance in national preparedness initiatives.

“Great discoveries and improvements invariably involve the cooperation of many minds,” Alexander Graham Bell observed. NIOSH depends on the help of our partners and collaborators – on your help – for success in our endeavors.

Please join me in honoring Workers Memorial Day, April 28, 2008, and striving together to safeguard our working men and women.