Now Is the Time to Strengthen Our Occupational Health Protections

Article excerpt

FORTY years ago this month, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the landmark law designed to protect employees from hazards in the workplace, went into effect. Today, April 28 marks Worker's Memorial Day, which is set aside to honor workers killed or injured at work.

The public will remember the West Virginia mine disaster that killed 29 miners last year, as well as the Gulf of Mexico oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers. Fourteen workers die on the job each and every day in the United States without headlines or public notice. Another 50,000 workers die each year from occupational diseases, and almost 5 million workers a year suffer work-related injuries.

This year, there are a number of important anniversaries that remind us of the profound connection between work and health, including the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, in which 146 New York City workers, mostly young immigrant women, perished because they were locked in the factory. Today, immigrant workers work in the most hazardous jobs and suffer high rates of injuries and disease.

In 1968, a mine explosion near Farmington, W.Va., killed 78 miners. The disaster was a catalyst for a federal coal mine safety law as well as the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and its sister agency, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

The past four decades of work by OSHA and NIOSH to improve workplace safety clearly demonstrates two facts: First, hundreds of thousands of workers' lives--estimates say as many as 410,000--have been saved because OSHA exists. …