By Scott MacKay
The majority of Americans heading to work in the morning look forward to their return home at the end of the day. Yet as recently as the 1970s, as many as thirty-eight people that went to work each day never came home. The significant number of workers being killed and injured on the job in America in 1970 was a little known national tragedy.
But here is a more encouraging statistic: Since 1970, workplace fatalities have been reduced by more than 65 percent and occupational injury and illness rates have declined by 67 percent. More impressive yet, U.S. employment almost doubled during this same period.
What changed? Thankfully, the nation rallied to the defense of its workers. The creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), passed with bipartisan support in 1970, represented an historic moment in national reform. Since then, OSHA and its state partners— teamed with the efforts of employers, safety and health professionals, unions and advocates—have had a dramatic effect on workplace safety.
Fatality and injury rates have dropped markedly. By 1992, the number was down to seventeen a day, but that was still seventeen too many. Another milestone occurred that year when the U.S. Department of Labor established the OSHA Training Institute at UC San Diego Extension, one of the four original Occupational Training and Education Centers in the United States.
The further reduction of workplace death and injuries over the past twenty years coincides with the development of the prototype OSHA training programs that began on the UC San Diego campus and expanded nationally. The aim was to provide both experienced and newer safety professionals important workplace knowledge and practical experience regarding safety and safety standards.
At UC San Diego Extension, we continue to offer high quality, standards-based OSHA training in California, Arizona, Nevada, and Hawaii. In the past two decades we trained many thousands of safety and health professionals who attended our courses and earned our Professional Certificate in Occupational Safety and Health.
Extension’s programs address the big safety issues. For example, the four leading causes of worker deaths on construction sites are falls, followed by electrocution, struck by object, and caught in-between. These "Fatal Four" were responsible for nearly three out of five (57 percent) construction worker deaths in 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The American workforce now includes over 130 million workers at more than 7.2 million worksites. Since the passage of the OSH Act of 1970, the rate of reported serious workplace injuries and illnesses has declined from 11 per 100 workers to 3.6 per 100 workers.
“Every day in America, thirteen people go to work and never come home. Every year in America, nearly four million people suffer a workplace injury from which some may never recover,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis in an April 2012 speech. “These are preventable tragedies that disable our workers, devastate our families, and damage our economy.”
Safety in the workplace has improved since the 1970s but there is more to be done. Training the safety trainers is a proven strategy for getting more workers home safely. UC San Diego Extension continues to make helping workers and their families avoid workplace tragedy its number one job.
—Scott MacKay is the director of the OSHA Training Institute Education Center and Resuscitation Science at UC San Diego Extension.