Fifty years ago today, the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act went into effect. It created two federal agencies vital to protecting American workers: the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Today is also Workers’ Memorial Day in the US, the National Day of Mourning in Canada, and International Workers’ Memorial Day around the globe. It is a day to pause, to mourn for those injured, made sick, or killed by their jobs, and to pledge to do better to protect all workers’ safety and health.
In the half-century since the passage of the OSH Act, there has never been a more important time to recommit to that goal. Both persistent and emerging hazards continue to threaten the lives and livelihoods of construction workers, and our industry must do more to keep them safe on the job.
CPWR began our partnership with NIOSH in 1990, at the start of its construction sector research program. In 2019, CPWR was awarded our seventh consecutive five-year cooperative agreement to serve as the NIOSH-funded National Construction Center. Over the past three decades, working closely with NIOSH has enabled CPWR to build (1) a multi-disciplinary, productive, integrated research team, (2) outstanding, multi-level industry relationships, and (3) an extensive record of major achievements. Two external reviews of this work—by the National Academies in 2008 and by an external panel of experts in 2018 —both highlighted the many impacts of this 31-year partnership.
Our collaboration has proved critical to supporting workers during the pandemic. For example, our CPWR/NIOSH webinar series on COVID-19 has brought vital information to people across the industry, often drawing on questions from contractors, workers, and safety professionals. Our upcoming webinar will be the 20th in this series and will feature Dr. John Howard, NIOSH’s Director, who helped launch the series last year. The importance of these webinars is clear in the response they have generated: more than 7,000 attendees and a similar number of on-demand views.
On this Workers’ Memorial Day, I would like to personally thank Dr. Howard for his leadership at NIOSH and for being a fearless advocate for worker health and safety. Dr. Howard was the lone federal official who told Congress in 2020 that SARS-CoV-2 posed a grave danger to workers. Year after year, the dedication of NIOSH leadership and staff to carrying out the OSH Act is critical to improving conditions for all working Americans and saving lives.
CPWR also has strong partnerships with OSHA: an official Alliance, serving as an OSHA Training Institute Education Center, organizing a research-to-practice working group, and co-leadership of national campaigns aimed at reducing the toll of persistent construction safety hazards. All working people should appreciate how dedicated OSHA’s hardworking staff are to carrying out its mission. OSHA has the most prominent voice in worker safety and health in the world, so when there is political will to lead, it matters.
It is encouraging to see, as indicated at the start of this week by the Office of Management and Budget’s website, that OSHA is preparing to issue an emergency temporary standard on workplace exposure to SARS-CoV-2. Our battle with this pandemic far from over: workers across all industries are still contracting this virus at their jobs, and mandatory protections are long overdue.
Please take a moment today to pause, thank an essential worker for doing their job while in grave danger, remember those who have died because of their work, and fight for the living.