Column: Workplace safety – more than statistics

Column: Workplace safety – more than statistics

By: Melissa McLawhorn Houston
Labor Commissioner

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Electrocution claimed the life of a single father of five children last year – at work. Over 90 Oklahomans a year leave their home to go to a job to support their families and will die in a work related death.

Each year, more than 4,000 women and men die as a result of a workplace incident in the United States resulting in 12-15 workers dying every day. And 4 million workers suffer workplace injury or illness annually.

These statistics can never capture the full impact of these losses – an empty chair at the dinner table, birthdays not celebrated, and grandchildren not enjoyed. Preventable workplace deaths are unacceptable and Oklahoma can do more.

Many do not realize that workplace safety is still a modern, relevant issue affecting families every day. At the Oklahoma Department of Labor, we are continuously committed to improving and investing in worker safety.

For private employers, our knowledgeable team can offer a free, voluntary and confidential safety consultation that walks through an OSHA inspection identifying hazards and offering real solutions. This allows the business to not only avoid costly OSHA fines, but to invest resources upfront to combat workplace incidents. Over the last 2 years, this program has saved Oklahoma businesses over $52 million in potential OSHA penalties paid to the federal government.

The program has been so successful that we are replicating it for public sector employers. Our focus is partnering with counties, schools, and cities to offer best practices and identify priorities. Understanding the tight budgets our local governments face, our PEOSH (Public Employer Occupational Safety and Health) program focuses on consultation and partnership, investing precious local resources in prevention.

Workplace safety is also an attitude and culture change, so reaching Oklahoma’s youth is crucial to changing our statistics. The Oklahoma Department of Labor provides training and curriculum to educators giving students the knowledge and skills to be safe. We also host a “Speak Out for Workplace Safety” video contest every year for students across the state to educate their peers on workplace hazards and knowing their rights.

Worker’s Memorial Day is an opportunity for us to remember those Oklahomans tragically lost in a work related death and to resolve to do better. The ceremony will be held on April 26th at 11:00 a.m. at the Oklahoma State Capitol. We will commemorate the lives lost last year and reflect on the true cost of workplace safety. Members of the legislature are also invited to attend to witness firsthand why investments in workplace safety on the front end is imperative to a prosperous working environment in Oklahoma.

The five children of an Oklahoma worker deserve to have their father. We can do better – our wage-earners deserve to be safe, healthy, and able to return home after a day’s hard work.

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