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Researchers must take safety programmes into the workplace

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Now is the time for researchers to take the next crucial step to preventing occupational injury and join with industry, employers, and workers to implement injury prevention practices, exhorts a review of occupational injury prevention in the United States.

Occupational deaths are declining. The National Traumatic Occupational Fatalities Surveillance System, probably the best source of recent trend data, estimates that during 1980–98 the annual rate of occupational deaths fell from over 7.5/100 000 workers to just under 4/100 000 workers. The Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries reported fewer than 6000 deaths in the United States in 2000. Nevertheless, closer inspection discloses that death rates among the leading causes of occupational deaths—from motor vehicles, murder, machines, falls, and electrocutions—are falling at different rates and in some industries are actually increasing.

Progress has largely been the result of applying science based problem solving to occupational injury and death and, latterly, to more collaboration between government and industry and among public health, safety, and social scientists. What is now needed is for occupational injury researchers to help industry overcome barriers to changing working practice. This entails focusing on evaluating safety programmes, showing their practical and cost effectiveness; breaking down psychological and organisational barriers; and speeding the take up of programmes by key decision makers in organisations—maybe seeking to influence the “early adopters” first.

These are immediate priorities. Occupational injury researchers have an important responsibility: “to find the means to apply what we know so that the real end result is the worker who goes home alive and safe at the end of the day.”

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