Friday, April 27, 2012

Workers Memorial Day

Tomorrow, April 28th is Workers Memorial Day, a day when we remember those people who died from injuries in the workplace. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis issued a statement saying "Tomorrow, April 28, is Workers' Memorial Day, an occasion for reflection and remembrance of the thousands of workers who needlessly have suffered fatal injuries on the job every year. We also think of those workers who have been seriously injured or sickened as a result of preventable workplace hazards. "We are never prepared to say goodbye to the people we love, but we are even less so when we send our loved ones off for a day's work. It is our duty to ensure that all workers come home safely at the end of each workday, and we stand behind our firm conviction that workplace injuries and fatalities are entirely preventable. "On this day, I urge all Americans to raise their voices in support of workers' right to a safe and healthful workplace. In the 41 years since the Occupational Safety and Health Act was enacted, we have made tremendous progress, but our steadfast mission to make every job in America a safe job must continue. One workplace death is too many. Making a living shouldn't include dying.". And as the Secretary has said previously "With every one of these fatalities, the lives of a worker's family members were shattered and forever changed. We can't forget that fact." These statistics report tragic accidents that occur suddenly and with immediate impact, however many workplace injuries, such as those that result from chemical exposure may not produce symptoms for many years and so are not counted in the work place safety statistics. We know that many chemicals used in the workplace are carcinogenic and for a select few, OSHA has promulgated 27 legally binding standards covering nearly 40 carcinogens. However, there are hundreds of known human carcinogens according to International Agency for Research on Cancer and the National Toxicology Program. These organizations also name a much larger number of compounds that are suspected carcinogens. The American Cancer Society has them in a convenient list. This list is conservative and only includes those compounds shown to cause cancer or with incriminating evidence against them. The actual number of cancer causing compounds is certainly much higher. Cancer is one of the major causes of death in the US. In 2010, according to the CDC it was the second leading cause of death behind heart disease with 567,628 out of 2,437,163 deaths. and in 2012 the American Cancer Society estimates there will be 1,638,910 new cases of cancer. In pre-industrial cultures, while cancers did occasionally occur, they were very rare, indicating that cancers are largely caused by environmental factors; see for example Cancer As an Environmental Disease, By P. Nicolopoulou-Stamati, 2004 There are many different types of cancer and for those interested, the probability of a man or woman dying from a particular type of cancer has been tabulated. While exposure to cancer causing agents occurs in many aspects of life from smoking to exposure to benzene in gasoline, workplace exposures are considered to be at higher levels than for public exposures. We know that we are all exposed to many cancer causing agents, especially in the workplace, that many people will develop cancer from reasons unknown and that a large proportion of them will die of it. However, it is very rare that somebody with a cancer diagnose can be associated with exposure to a particular chemical. We don’t know what proportion of the over half million people who will die from cancer this year will do so because of workplace exposure, but it is likely that this number of hidden workplace fatalities far exceeds the 4,690 fatal workplace accidents (2010) that we are remembering tomorrow.

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