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Workplace safety news in the mainstream media: Will it lead to change?

April 3, 2013

Occupational safety and health issues have been in the news in a major way recently.

National Public Radio and the Center for Public Integrity aired a story March 24 on fatal grain bin entrapments detailing how OSHA has been drastically reducing fines following such deaths, even for incidents involving teenage workers.

Another CPI and public radio collaboration, this time with Chicago Public Radio, explored the weak safety protections for temporary workers by highlighting the story of a Chicago man who endured a 98-minute wait to be taken to a hospital after being scalded by chemicals at work. He later died.

And finally, a March 30 New York Times article covered the expansive issue of occupational illnesses and questioned OSHA’s seemingly larger focus on occupational injuries.

These are all issues Safety+Health has covered before (grain entrapments, temporary workers and occupational illnesses), but it’s great seeing such mainstream news coverage, too. As OSHA administrator David Michaels has said previously, about as many workplace deaths occur every day (13) as the number of workers who perished in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico refinery explosion (11), but those daily deaths rarely get the same type of attention as a major catastrophe.

“If a Deepwater Horizon-like disaster was on the seven o’clock news every evening, there would be a public outcry,” Michaels said in a Workers Memorial Day speech two years ago. “But because these thousands of deaths usually happen one at a time, in different towns large and small across the country, they rarely make headlines, they rarely are noted, and they drive no change.”

I’m hoping mainstream media scrutiny continues on the issue of occupational safety and health, and that it leads to positive change.

The opinions expressed in "Washington Wire" do not necessarily reflect those of the National Safety Council or affiliated local Chapters.

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