Monday, April 2, 2012

Shining a Light on Prevention

Years ago, as I walked into the Pacific Rim Conference opening session, my attention was drawn to a table set apart from the rest. It was set for a single diner. The napkin was folded with care, and a small vase contained a single red rose. A dim melancholy light glowed above the empty seat at the table set in a darkened corner.

I vividly remember that day. And while I don't recall the words of the memorial poem that was read, I remember the tears it brought to my eyes and the sorrow it brought to my heart. That empty chair symbolized all those who had died on the job, the ones we couldn't save. Every day, there is another empty chair somewhere in the world.

April 28 is International Worker Memorial Day. People around the world will remember colleagues and loved ones lost to workplace fatalities. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 4,547 people died on the job in 2010. That's about the same number of people who attended Safety 2011 in Chicago last June. Imagine the empty halls, the rooms full of empty chairs.

In 2010, nearly 3.1 million people suffered nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses while working for private industry employers. In the often-overlooked public sector, 820,300 injuries and illness cases were reported in 2010 by state and local governments. When we break it down to incident rates, it is startling to find that the injury and illness rate for public entities was 5.7 cases per 100 full-time workers versus 3.5 cases per 100 workers for private industry.

As we remember those lost and honor their lives, let's also keep our collective focus on the importance of our continuous efforts to reduce fatalities and injuries. This month, ASSE chapters, regions and sections are readying for their North American Occupational Safety & Health (NAOSH) Week projects and events. NAOSH Week - observed May 6-12 this year - is when we shine a bright light on injury and illness prevention. On Occupational Safety and Health Professional (OSHP) day (observed May 9), we recognize those who strive each day to eliminate work-related fatalities, injuries and illnesses. NAOSH Week and OSHP Day are two great opportunities that we, as safety professionals, have to educate the public, businesses and communities about occupational safety and our great profession.
NAOSH Week is May 6-12
This year marks the 10th anniversary of our NAOSH Week Safety-on-the-Job kids' poster contest, which gives children around the globe an opportunity to express their creativity and to learn about SH&E professionals and our mission to ensure on-the-job safety for every working person around the globe. The winning entries are featured on the NAOSH Week 2012 poster that is distributed worldwide. To order your copy, contact

I encourage you to start a NAOSH Week campaign in your area. Hold a safety day at work or in your community. Host a PPE fashion show. Invite school children to tour your facility to see firsthand what you do as an SH&E professional. 
You'll find an array of tools, such as a draft proclamation and information on many more ways to participate, at I urge you to use the NAOSH Week proclamation to bring worker safety to the attention of your local leaders. We must do more to ensure that those who work in the public sector have the same protections as those who work in the private sector. A proclamation may be a small step, but it is a start.

As we remember those lost, all those empty chairs, let's recommit ourselves to shining a light on prevention, to making a difference for those who remain.

"There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them." --Denis Waitley