Happy (Safe) Earth Day!

Earth Day started 37 years ago – the same year the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was born. But their histories have been very different, and Safety Day is a long time in coming.

The founder of Earth Day, US Senator Gaylord Nelson, says he got the idea in the summer of '69 watching anti-Vietnam War "teach-ins" at colleges across America. He thought, "why not organize a huge grassroots protest over what was happening to our environment?"

"We had neither the time nor resources to organize 20 million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities that participated," Senator Nelson has been reported as saying back then. "That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself."

Meanwhile, although workplace accidents and deaths have decreased since OSHA was born in 1970, the awareness of the general public about the importance of safety has not grown even close to the rate of envrionmental awareness (and activism) over the same decades. Except, perhaps, in the few instances where envrionmental issues, such as spill containment, overlap with occupational health issues.

But I do believe the same momentum can happen if we get together and create a Safety Respect Day. Just like its green predecessor, a Safety Day would engage all companies, communities and schools in brainstorming solutions to hazards at home or work.

I laugh now looking back at how much corporations and their lawyers hated those pesky environmentalists a couple of decades ago! A business owner myself, I know how they felt bearing the newfound pain of environmental regulations.

But I also know that corporate decision makers didn't feel the need to stop spewing sewage into our lakes, or damaging our ozone, or leaking toxins into our soil, until the public had had enough and put their collective foot down. Those environmental "hippies" taught corporate America to behave in treating this planet – and they've been gaining advocates of all stripes ever since!

It seems to me (and I'm on the frontlines, speaking every week to the heads of major corporations) that the opportunity today for safety is what existed for the environment in boardrooms starting a couple of decades ago.

So we've got a great role model, a precedent set by Big Business, as well as today's emphasis on corporate governance, ethical investing and social responsibility.

Environmentalists managed to rally 20 million folks for the first Earth Day. Surely there are at least that many people personally affected by fatalities and injuries and illnesses that happen on the job...Let's rally the troops for safety solutions!

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