ASSE Letter to the Wall Street Journal Editor on “It Was ‘Safety First,’ But Critics Worried Folks Were Going Soft” column
Des Plaines, IL (September 18, 2007) — Letter to the Editor of the Wall Street Journal by ASSE President Michael W. Thompson, CSP
September 17, 2007
In reference to today’s column titled “It was ‘Safety First,’ But Critics Worried Folks Were Going Soft” by Cynthia Crossen, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) is pleased to see a column on workplace safety, but we would like to add more facts to the story to show that those “critics who worried folks were going soft” are in the minority.
In addition to the tragic incidents mentioned, also in New York City, in 1911, 149 women were killed in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in the Asch building because the fire exit doors were locked and there was no way out. Even the fire truck ladder could not reach the high floor the workers were on and several jumped from the windows to their deaths trying to escape.
Soon after that workplace tragedy ASSE was formed, in October of 1911. It now has more than 30,000 occupational safety, health and environmental professional members located around the world committed to protecting people, property and the environment.
Since the early 1900s workplace safety has improved, yet we agree more has to be done. We believe smart companies, businesses and government not only realize the importance of workplace safety, but also how it adds positively to their bottom line and reputation. Many smart companies incorporate occupational safety and health into their overall business strategy while those that don’t pay the price in increased worker’s compensation costs, training, hiring, business interruption and production slow downs, and more.
Today, about 5,000 people die from on-the-job injuries in the U.S. each year and millions more suffer work-related illnesses. The number one cause of on-the-job deaths continues to be transportation crashes, which we are addressing.
However, over the decades great strides have been made in increasing workplace safety.
For instance, 13,228 miners were killed in U.S. coal mines from 1906-1911. In 1910 the Bureau of Mines was established by Congress to increase mine safety. In 1911 the California Railroad Commission was created to oversee rail safety, including roadway/rail crossings. In 1931 the Uniform Traffic Code was established to address the increase in speed and volume of motor vehicles, setting up motor vehicle registration, driver licensing, auto anti-theft programs and uniform traffic regulations. Soon after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was established as well as the Farm Safety Specialists now known as the National Institute for Farm Safety in 1945 to help prevent injuries and illnesses in the agriculture industry.
And in 1971 President Richard M. Nixon signed into law the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 establishing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). In 1951 Congress established the National Water Safety Congress and in 1981 the Fire Safety Institute was born.
What people are focused on is their quality of life and that includes a safe workplace. As noted in Crossen’s column Whitney states “safety first is not only grossly inadequate, but positively wrong, misleading and harmful.” ASSE and its members and those who have worked for decades to improve workplace safety and health disagree.
The 1931 brochure titled “The Safe Worker” notes that in 1929 there were 3,000,000 lost time accidents in industry in the U.S. in 1929 at a cost of about $1,000 per incident for a total of $3,000,000,000. The brochure states, “who pays the bill you ask? Let’s don’t kid ourselves. We all pay it – and the staggering total means that every man, woman and child in the U.S. pays about $25 a year for industrial accidents whether we know it or not.” Today injuries are down, yet the dollar value has increased over the years as health care costs have spiraled upwards and continue to do so.
We must continue to work together so that every person who goes to work each day gets home safely and without injury. There’s no room for critics when it comes to saving lives.
Michael W. Thompson, CSP
American Society of Safety Engineers