In talking about career choices, we rarely mention occupational health hazards; but we should. This weekend, April 28, is national Workers Memorial Day, honoring the lives of 13 Americans a day who are killed on the job. All kinds of occupations involve fatalities: cashiers, farmers, workers in grain silos, a college football team student intern, healthcare workers infected by bloodborne pathogens. And there are social justice impacts too: Hispanics suffer from a higher rate of work-related injuries than any other group.
This blog starts a career planning series on workplace safety and health, and how to realistically assess our own risks in career decisions and the importance of staying mobile in the job market – a free agent – so you can leave an unsafe work environment. This is true whether you have a stressful office job or work on an Alaskan crab boat.
Ultimately it is up to you to decide on your work environment and the occupational health hazards you can handle – with the option to leave an employer that is not taking your safety seriously.
I hope occupational health issues will become more visible in the career planning and counseling process. It is important that people have informed choices and develop job skills to gain as much job market mobility as possible.
At least two tragic reminders of workplace safety’s importance have occurred in the last week, the deadly Texas fertilizer plant explosion and just today, the factory collapse killing over 87 garment workers in Bangladesh. You might say, well, we have better standards in the U.S.
But do we really? Especially considering all the economic resources at our disposal? Failure of government enforcement (assisted by poor funding and special interest lobbies) and an insecure job market make a risky work environment. To give one example of poor performance, the ratio of OSHA inspectors has fallen over the past 30 years, with 2,200 inspectors for 8 million workplaces and 130 million workers.
While overall on the job fatalities in the U.S. have fallen since they were tracked starting in the early 1970s, there are still 13 people per day too many being killed and many more injured.
My next post will focus on what individuals can do to find more occupation health information about a career option they are considering. In a later post, putting my employment lawyer hat on, I'll recommend realistic ways to deal with an unsafe working environment.
For more information:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries
Occupational Safety & Health Administration Common Statistics
It’s Official: Random Inspection Improve Workplace Safety, Science Magazine