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The National Safety Council eliminates preventable deaths at work, in homes and communities, and on the road through leadership, research, education and advocacy. Donate to our cause.
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The father of one of my best friends in college was killed in a coal mine in southwest Virginia when she was a young girl. She carries that loss with her every day of her life. I was in her wedding party and while she did not dwell on it, I know her walk down the aisle was bittersweet because her dad was not there.
At the National Safety Council, we believe we can eliminate preventable deaths in our lifetime. Workers’ Memorial Day on April 28 reminds us that our mission is far from over. This day also reminds us that for every worker lost, there are many more people affected than we count in the statistics.
Preventable deaths are tragedies because they should not have happened. For 14 families every day, they experience a mundane moment, someone leaves for work and says goodbye or heads out before the sun comes up – not realizing it may be the last moment they share with the people they love.
The most disconcerting part is that despite all the advances we have made in safety, workplace fatalities are on the rise. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, U.S. workplace fatalities reached 5,190 in 2016 – the third consecutive annual increase and the first time in nearly a decade the number has surpassed 5,000. Is it because the economy is improving? Are we facing different hazards? Or are we becoming complacent about the everyday risks we still face on the job?
During my days with the National Transportation Safety Board, when an incident occurred we conducted a thorough investigation to determine the root causes. We had to get down to the details of why the incident occurred, so we could do our best to prevent future crashes, derailments or system failures.
To impact workplace safety, we also need to look to the data to identify why these deaths are happening and focus our efforts. Here are some details we should pay attention to:
In addition to paying attention to the data above, employers should also be looking at their own numbers to see the biggest risks facing their workers. Committing to eliminating all preventable workplace deaths may seem like a daunting task, but when you think of the 5,190 families and communities that carry the loss of loved ones for a lifetime, it is the only acceptable goal.
In the words of Margaret Mead, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world." Safety professionals are the most committed individuals I’ve met, so I know together we can help make sure that instead of memorializing lives lost at work, we can celebrate all the milestones they will enjoy with their families for years to come.
The National Safety Council is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization.