The Department of Labor’s Labor Day 2011 website features some interesting historical info on this holiday, and an address from Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis that focuses on job creation. What I found particularly interesting was an op-ed by Secretary Solis – one of many linked from the site’s News page – published Friday in The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. It begins:
On Labor Day, we honor the contributions working men and women have made throughout history to the strength and prosperity of our nation. There are many, and they deserve the tribute.
But throughout our nation’s history, there have also been too many workplace related deaths and injuries. That’s part of our Labor Day past. My goal is to make sure that workers are safe and healthy today and in the future.
Twelve workers die every day on the job, and another 3.3 million Americans are seriously injured each year. One workplace injury or fatality is one too many.
As a nation, we’ve made significant progress on workplace safety since Congress created the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration more than 40 years ago. OSHA’s good work has brought about historic declines in workplace fatalities, injuries and illnesses.
These problems are already familiar to our regular readers. What came as a pleasant surprise given recent disappointments, though, was this section from Secretary Solis:
While compliance with workplace safety rules does have costs, the cost of not fixing unsafe or deadly workplaces is far greater–for workers, for their families and for their employers.
Studies of workplace injuries and illnesses estimate the total costs on businesses to range from $149 billion to $181 billion annually. A sobering report released last March found the most disabling injuries — those that keep employees away from work for six days or more — cost U.S. employers more than $53 billion per year.
To put it another way, U.S. businesses spend more than $1 billion every week to compensate working families for sickness, injury and death caused by their jobs.
… The moral argument is clear: Americans who work hard to provide for their families have a right to expect their employer will take steps to protect them from breathing lethal toxins, falling from unsecured construction platforms, losing fingers in factory machinery and dying from heat stroke
The economic argument is equally clear: Workplace safety regulations and vigorous enforcement not only save lives, they save profits and revenues companies can use to reinvest in the American worker.
It’s good to hear a member of the Obama administration pushing back against the idea that regulation is a financial burden on businesses and therefore must be stalled. Secretary Solis is clear here that failure to comply with regulations costs lives and money – and the employers who cut corners on safety bear some of the cost of the consequences.