This country (and many others) were built on the efforts of our laborers, and often they were doing very dangerous jobs. In the early to mid 1900s we had loggers, oil drillers, truckers, factory workers, etc., who certainly would have described their roles by the definitions above. Today, many of these jobs still exist, but automation has increased the safety of most workers. Most factories have automated many of the functions on the assembly line, improved the safety of those still involved in the manufacturing process, and gained efficiency. Labor Day honors those workers and their achievements and the socioeconomic advances many Americans have gained over the years.
I was raised Youngstown, OH, by a blue collar family. My dad worked on the railroad, and my mom built light bulbs on an assembly line. I recall (vividly) their stories about incidents that occurred at work. The focus 40 or 50 years ago was on production, getting the products out the door as fast as you could while the laborers were more of an afterthought. These jobs paid well (by the standards of the time) and therefore companies were not focused much on safety because they knew there were hundreds of people interested in those jobs.
Youngstown was centered around steel mills. We had Youngstown Sheet and Tube, U.S. Steel Works, etc., which provided the majority of the jobs in town. Nearly every family I knew had a steel worker or was employed by a job that supported the steel industry. The railroad industry was the primary transport method of steel production. Rail cars would pull into the mills and wait to be loaded, pull out and another would pull in. I remember driving by the mills daily, and every one of them had a sign outside that said “X days since the last accident.” It was rare to see the “X” represent anything greater than 10 days. I remember driving by and seeing “14 days since the last accident” and thinking “wow, that’s really good.” Isn’t that odd? I thought 14 days was a great timeline to be accident free. It was not unusual to see “0” as the number. I always thought about the person who had experienced the injury and wondered how severe it was. Would they be OK? Was it somebody I knew?
Over the years there has been a shift in focus by companies, workers, industries, etc. to increase safety and prevent accidents. Today, while companies track these same events (as required by OSHA), there are few signs displaying them to all who drive by. In my case, the steel mills I saw as a kid are gone, and all signs of the mills have been removed.
I am confident, based on the today’s safety programs, that the number of days between accidents is much greater than 14 in most American companies. Companies now have jobs and careers dedicated to the safety of their employees. There are safety training programs and processes in place to alleviate injuries, and we have improved protective gear. It’s a different world from 40 or 50 years ago. And that is a great thing!
While many laborers do complain about automation reducing the number of jobs available, the focus as it relates to safety is great! 40-50 years ago there were no college degrees related to safety; safety policies and training were just coming into fruition, and most workers accepted the fact that there were risks associated with the type of work they had chosen to perform.
As we think about Labor Day, I remember those workers that were injured, many of whom were fearful of losing their job if they reported the injury or who may not have been treated in the best manner when they reported the injury. I’m thankful for the advances in our safety programs and in the provision of protective gear to those in dangerous roles, and for workers’ comp insurance. I’m proud to recognize all of the laborers who made this country so great – the farmers, the loggers, the steel workers, the truckers, the welders, the plumbers, the electricians, and all of the other trades that have contributed to the successes of America and who have sacrificed to do so. Join me in thinking about (and thanking) our laborers as we celebrate this Labor Day.
Happy Labor Day!