by Phil La Duke
Over the past weeks, I’ve gotten a lot of flack from some wonderfully helpful salt of the earth readers who, citing my less than positive tone of my introduction stopped reading. So this week I am making every effort to avoid offending these precious snowflakes so that they can feel at home reading my blog.
Let me begin by saying that all is well in the world of safety. As far as I can tell we’ve climbed the mountain, to quote Walt Whitman “the ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won”. Not only have we eliminated workplace fatalities, no one anywhere in the world is so much as at RISK of being injured. Congratulations all around. Really you’ve all done a top-shelf job.
Okay, I’ll stop. I just had to get one last jab in at the people who, unable to construct a cognizant argument against my points, just to hide behind faux self-righteous indignation rather than think. Some have suggested that I might reach a wider audience by printing watered-down pablum instead using a harsh tone; tough. This is how I write and I will continue to write this way as long people risk their employees lives in the workplace. Platitudes and niceties don’t bring change, and as long as the workplace continues to change so too must safety.
All that is an aside. Today in the U.S. is Labor Day, a National holiday in which we recognize and honor organized labor. Today there are plenty in the safety community quick to forget the role of organized labor played in pushing for workplace safety. From the Triangle Shirt Waist Factory fire to the enactment of OSHA legislation and many points in between Organized Labor has pushed, and literally fought with fist and ax handles for the rights of workers—not the least of which, being the right to come home unharmed after a hard day’s work.
Labor has been under siege for decades but safety professionals would be well-served to remember that as goes Labor so goes Safety, and whether you are an entry-level safety coordinator or a senior manager in safety to either a small extent or a large you owe that job for protections fought and one by the Unions around the world.
Some reading this will balk at this and say that they owe nothing to “those no good so-and-sos” in the Union. But just as Unions fought for safer work environments, companies without Unions often emulated the practices of Union shops to keep Unions out of their shops. Organized Labor in the U.S. fought for legislation governing the safety of the workplace as did their counterparts in Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and other countries. The idea that workers had a RIGHT to come home alive and uninjured grew out of the ideals of organized labor, few large companies viewed workers as anything more than disposable tools that, when broken, could be thrown out and cheaply replaced. Unions created the idea that workers were people and had the right to work safely.
Hopefully it won’t take another The Jungle to wake people up to the sorry state of working conditions both in the U.S. and abroad, but until then enjoy your holidays and weekends and remember every step you take that is pain free, every time you stand at a barbecue with a beer in your hand without excruciating back pain, or simply have a conversation with someone who might otherwise not be there were it not for worker safety, and raise a glass in respect to the many who fought and died for your right to a safe workplace; we stand on the shoulders of giants.