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VIEWPOINT: This Labor Day, let’s re-commit ourselves to protecting people at work
Guest editorial by Sheila Stanley
As many of us enjoy this Labor Day holiday, we should take a moment to reflect on the struggles won by those in the American labor movement. Their successful efforts to improve working conditions and wages, establish safety regulations and worker benefits and give workers a voice in a company or industry led President Grover Cleveland to set aside the first Monday in September to honor their accomplishments. These gains brought tremendous changes to the American workplace and protections and benefits that we enjoy today.
Despite these many advances, more work is needed to make sure people end their workdays unharmed.
While South Dakota consistently benefits with one of the nation’s lowest unemployment rates, currently at 1.8 percent, and 70 percent of the population over age 16 has a job, workplace safety continues to be a concern. In fact, five South Dakotans have suffered fatal workplace injuries since October 2022. These preventable incidents involved workers being struck by equipment or falling from elevation, the leading cause of fatalities in the construction industry.
Employers must evaluate operations, train employees to make sure that equipment is operated safely and establish safe areas around equipment to prevent workers from being struck. Employers must also provide employees – and ensure they use – required fall protection systems when working at heights greater than 6 feet, and that ladders and hoisting materials are used safely on job sites.
Agriculture, South Dakota’s number one industry, is another area where safety must be a primary concern. As farmers prepare to harvest millions of acres of corn and other grains this fall, employees working at grain elevators may be at increased risk due to bin entry and other hazards in grain-handling operations. The risks to workers involved in these operations cannot be overlooked. The Purdue University Agricultural Safety and Health Program reported that in 2022, at least 59 workers were injured and 24 others died in confined spaces such as bins, elevators and silos – nearly a 41 percent increase from 2021. These injuries and losses of lives may have been prevented if required safety standards were followed.
As we look forward to the changing season and enjoy the bounty that South Dakota farmers put on tables across the nation, we should not overlook the safety and well-being of the people who make it possible. Learn more about OSHA and industry-recognized safety rules for agricultural operations.
Federal law protects workers’ rights to a safe and healthy workplace, and they should expect to end each day free of harm. We at OSHA want employers to make safety and health a core value in their workplaces and call on South Dakota’s employers in all industries to do their part to ensure OSHA protections are applied equally to all workers.
Sheila Stanley is the Sioux Falls Area Director for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration serving the state of South Dakota