Each day 14 workers die in our country from traumatic injuries. That means more than 5,000 people are killed on the job every year. Tens of thousands more die each year of work related diseases. In addition, more than 4.6 million are seriously injured. While those numbers are alarming enough, what troubles me is that most – if not all of these – are injuries and fatalities that could have been easily prevented.
Yesterday, on Workers Memorial Day, we remembered those killed on the job and recommitted ourselves to ensuring that future tragedies are prevented. As a part of this effort and the Department of Labor’s continued emphasis on greater transparency, through the White House Open Government Initiative, we released 15 years of valuable data detailing workplace exposure to toxic chemicals.
This Chemical Exposure Health Data is comprised of measurements taken during the course of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspections and includes exposure levels to hazardous chemicals including asbestos, benzene, beryllium, cadmium, lead, nickel, silica, and others.
Making this dataset available to the public for the first time will offer new insight into the levels of toxic chemicals commonly found in workplaces, as well as how exposures to specific chemicals are distributed across industries, geographical areas and time. This information will ultimately lead to a more robust and focused debate on what still needs to be done to protect workers in all sectors, especially in the chemical industry.
So what does this mean for you? For starters, those of you who are technically inclined, please help develop software (e.g. search and visualization tools) to enable all of us to know if any chemical hazards have been reported in our workplace or see which occupations have a greater risk of exposure to certain chemicals. This information is also a great way to make sure that companies and businesses in your area are doing all that they can to minimize chemical exposure as your neighbors. You could even combine our data with other useful datasets like the National Institutes of Health “Haz-Map” database to help diagnose exposure related illnesses more quickly. If you build any useful tools using this data, let us know by submitting your tool via the Developer’s Corner on Data.gov. Most importantly, whether you’re a software developer, an employer, or a worker – with this data you’ll be able to arm yourself with the information you need to make your workplace a safer workplace.
The mission of the Department of Labor as a worker protection agency is more clear and needed than ever and opening this data to the public is a valuable means of strengthening the tools available to us. With a renewed emphasis on protecting workers and businesses that do the right thing, our goal is simple: Save Lives.
Dr. David Michaels is the Assistant Secretary for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor.