More than family and maternity leave, minimum wage, overtime and sick day pay, and the right to join a union, the vast majority of American workers value safety in the workplace. A new study, “Public Attitudes Towards and Experiences with Workplace Safety,” conducted by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) said that 85 percent of workers say that safety is the most important labor standard.
Unfortunately, the widespread concern for safety isn’t fully reflected by many corporate enterprises in America, even when the nature of the work is extremely dangerous. The study found that close attention is often only given to safety improvements after a workplace disaster occurs, despite the concern for safety cited amongst workers.
“Even during those tragedies, the fate of workers is often overlooked, such as during the recent oil well disaster in the Gulf of Mexico,” said a report by OHS magazine.
According to Tom W. Smith, director of NORC’s General Social Survey, “Workplace safety is too often ignored or accidents taken for granted. It is striking that coverage in the media and public opinion polls have virtually ignored the 11 workers killed by the blowout and destruction of the drilling platform,” he told OHS.
“If optimal safety had been maintained, not only would the lives of the 11 workers been saved, but the whole environmental disaster would have been averted,” Smith said.
Robert Shull of the Public Welfare Foundation said, “Workplace safety should be a constant concern. Given the importance that workers themselves place on this issue, we should not have to mourn the loss of people on the job before government and employers take more effective measures to ensure that employees can go home safely after work.”
According to Department of labor statistics, the number of workers who died on the job in 2009 dropped 17 percent from 2008, but workplace injuries remained high. Analysts believe the drop in fatalities was caused by the receding economy rather than a surge of workplace safety improvements.
Workplace stress and exhaustion are often major catalysts in workplace accidents, especially when combined with poor safety standards in the workplace.
Twelve percent of workers reported on-the-job injury last year. Thirty-seven percent of workers have had to received medical treatment for a workplace injury.
There are also enormous costs to the public when workers are harmed or killed on the job.
“Unsafe working conditions end up costing the public dearly,” added Shull. “But no matter what the cost to the general public, the workers and their families pay the highest price.”