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Workers Memorial Day 2007: Statement by John Howard, M.D., Director


NIOSH Update:

Contact: Fred Blosser (202) 401-3749
April 26, 2007

In 1907, Dr. Alice Hamilton began an intense professional inquiry into occupational safety and health in the U.S. From that inquiry, she made it her life’s mission to eradicate hazards in what she termed the dangerous trades. A century later, thanks to Dr. Hamilton and others who followed after her in science, medicine, labor, industry, and public service, the risk of dying on the job or suffering a work-related impairment has decreased substantially for the average working man and working woman.

However, as we are reminded by Workers Memorial Day, and as Dr. Hamilton surely would advise if she were among us today, we should never grow complacent. Occupational injuries, illnesses, and deaths continue to occur, and they continue to impose a heavy toll as lives are cut short, livelihoods shattered, families disrupted, and communities left shaken.

The advancements that Alice Hamilton pioneered in the early 20th Century were based on first-hand observations in factories, steel mills, stockyards, and other work sites. Tirelessly, Dr. Hamilton and her colleagues examined and treated patients, collected and combed statistics, peered into the workings of unsafe machinery, and linked workplace exposures to lead palsy, to the painful and disfiguring condition called “phossy jaw,” and to other terrible afflictions. From those first-hand observations, new approaches emerged for making workplaces safer and healthier.

In today’s increasingly complex world, NIOSH and its partners are committed to the same kind of exacting, evidence-based, results-driven scientific investigation for the 21st Century. Decades ago, Alice Hamilton stepped up to the challenge of saving men, women, and children from “phossy jaw” in match factories—and succeeded. Today’s practitioners apply the same level of determination in ground-breaking research to prevent disabling back injuries among employees who care for our elderly in nursing homes, and to make workplaces secure against deadly acts of violence, to name two examples among many.

As we use the latest scientific tools and concepts to pursue these and other efforts, we are also stimulating new initiatives to translate research into practice, and to build injury and illness prevention into workplace design. We are collaborating with diverse partners to better integrate occupational health protection with work-based health promotion, and to examine the implications of emerging technologies.

These initiatives reflect a firm conviction that prevention should not an afterthought: it should be incorporated early and thoroughly into the way that business is done. More and more, this is being recognized in boardrooms, executive suites, and business schools as a smart way to operate in today’s competitive global market.

On Workers Memorial Day, April 28, 2007, as we solemnly honor those who were killed, injured, or made ill on the job, we also strive for a future in which such tragedies no longer occur.