By David Kriebel, Molly M. Jacobs, Pia Markkanen, and Joel Tickner
Information and Resources
Every day in the United States, 14 workers die on the job and millions of workers are seriously injured or sickened by doing their work. The harms to workers, the costs to our healthcare system, and the damages to communities are immense.
Yet many of these injuries and deaths could have been prevented by applying the lessons learned from our country’s history of workplace health and safety. It is a history rich in powerful examples of regulations failing to protect workers as well as policies and practices that enable workers to be healthy and safe. These lessons can be used to create far more effective approaches that not only protect workers but also reduce the harms to society.
Going to work should not be a choice between feeding your family and protecting your health and safety.
To make these lessons clear and useful, the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production has produced Lessons Learned: Solutions for Workplace Safety and Health. The report's six case studies illustrate systemic failures to protect workers, communities, and the environment such as:
- Immigrant workers killed and severely burned in house fires caused by the chemicals used to refinish wood floors.
- Health care workers, hotel housekeepers, as well as meat and poultry workers disabled by back injuries and other musculoskeletal strain from long hours of awkward postures and repetitive movements.
- Long and avoidable delays in the scientific and legal proceedings used to set health standards protecting workers from cancer-causing chemicals.
We are proud that noted labor photojournalist Earl Dotter has allowed us to use his compelling photographs throughout the report. We are also grateful to the Public Welfare Foundation for supporting this project and the dozens of occupational health experts (too many to mention) that we consulted with as we selected and developed the individual case studies.
Effective, Practical Solutions
Lessons Learned identifies seven high-priority strategies for making workplaces safer. While improved regulations and enforcement are clearly needed, there are many other opportunities to improve worker health and safety.
Comprehensive workplace injury and illness prevention programs that tap worker and employer knowledge, expanded safety and health protections for immigrant workers, strengthened expertise in occupational and environmental health, and proven practices to systematically identify and control workplace hazards all play a role.
A crucial conclusion of this research is that work-related injury and illnesses could be prevented if chemicals, production processes, and technologies were designed with worker health in mind. “Prevention through Design” initiatives are now being used to design buildings that eliminate hazards and make jobs, products, and materials inherently safer.
With the current need to get people back to work and green the economy, stimulating innovation that designs out hazards holds great promise for breaking free of the false dichotomy of safety versus profit—it doesn’t have to be a trade-off.
Please see below for information about ordering hard copies of the full report.
Lessons Learned Full Report [Download PDF] 130 pages
Executive Summary [Download PDF] 12 pages
This is also the report’s final chapter. It synthesizes lessons learned from the six case studies and outlines seven high-priority strategies to improve worker safety and health in the US.
Lowell Center for Sustainable Production
University of Massachusetts Lowell
One University Ave.
Lowell, MA 01854