This Labor Day, Workers Want Job Safety


As Labor Day approaches, today’s workers are more concerned about job safety than they are about family and maternity leave, wages, paid sick days, and other factors, according to a new study from the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago. The study, “Pubic Attitudes Towards and Experiences with Workplace Safety,” includes information from dozens of surveys and polls conducted from 2001 to 2010.

Worker Safety Statistics
The Bureau of Labor Statistics released preliminary figures in August 2010, and reported that fatal work injuries in 2009 were 4,340, down from a revised total of 5,214 in 2008. Nonfatal injuries and illnesses among workers in private industry in 2008 numbered 3.7 million, while those in state and local government numbered about 940,000.


Workplace Safety Study
The NORC study found that 85 percent of workers rate workplace safety as the number one concern among labor standards. Yet their concern does not seem to be on the minds of others, as the study also found that the media and the public tend to focus their attention on safety issues only when there is a disaster. Even then, worker safety is often overlooked.

According to Tom W. Smith, director of NORC’s General Social Survey, “Workplace safety is too often ignored or accidents taken for granted.” He noted that after the recent Gulf oil disaster, many questions targeted the environmental impact and neglected worker safety. Other recent workplace disasters, including the April 2010 coal mine accident in West Virginia, highlight concerns over safety issues for workers.

Smith also noted that many workers report “exhaustion, dangerous working conditions and other negative experiences at work,” and “such conditions mean that workplace accidents are far from rare.” Whether employees’ concerns about workplace safety will spark any special attention this Labor Day is unknown, but one thing appears to be certain: “the workers and their families pay the highest price,” noted Robert Shull, program officer for workers’ rights at the Public Welfare Foundation.

Bureau of Labor Statistics
University of Chicago