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A Little Bit of History on Labor Day and its Relation to Your Health

Being more or less an unofficial end of summer, Labor Day recognizes the contributions made by American workers in mining, agriculture, and manufacturing, during the Industrial Revolution in the 18th Century, which paved the way towards economic growth and prosperity in the United States for years to come. Workers during that time have put in 60+ hours and a 6-day workweek, and collectively have harvested tons of minerals and crops, and manufactured products to sell to the market, thereby driving the creation of wealth. The long work hours and dangerous working conditions became demanding that the Pullman Strike of 1894 marked a pivotal event when railroad workers mounted a strike and protests against wage cuts without lowering housing rent [1]. Labor Day became a federal holiday that year.

Still, the battle for a safer working environment continued in the 20th Century. Accidents in coal mines between 1905 to 1909 have claimed 2,640 lives, exposures to low levels of toxins and chemicals became a concern in the 1930s, and the occupational hazards among manufacturing workers have led to an estimate of over 100,000 deaths related to lung disease between 1968 to 1992 [2]. These findings have time and time again show the need for personal protective equipment, particularly respirators used to filter out airborne toxins and pollutants, to protect the health of workers.

In the modern-day work workplace, there are hazards to be on a lookout for, such as fall/slip risks, ergonomic issues, heavy equipment use, electrical hazards, and workplace violence as some examples according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration [3]. For the employee working in a retail setting, best practices in lifting should be reviewed as merchandise can come in many different shapes, sizes, and weights. Loss of days due to injury can be costly to both the employee and the employer.

With the working from home movement in the coronavirus era, having an ergonomic computer workstation will be critical to prevent back pain, eye strain, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Having a good chair that “fits” your sitting style and body architecture “like a glove” and adjusting the computer monitor to reduce glare, all supplemented by stand up breaks to give your eyes and back a rest, are preventative measures against injury.

As we are having a restful three-day weekend by kicking back and firing up the grill, let’s pay tribute to the past and the workers that have built America to what it is today. Also, let’s think about how our day job, career, occupation, or however you may call it has a role in our health. Let’s raise our glass and say cheers to the frontline healthcare workers making contributions in fighting the coronavirus pandemic, to the essential workers in retail keeping the stores up and running for us to buy groceries and consumables, and to the doers and risk-takers looking to build a safer and brighter future for America, as our working ancestors did before.

References

[1] Pruitt, Sarah. (2019). How a deadly railroad strike led to the Labor Day holiday. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/news/labor-day-pullman-railway-strike-origins

[2] Rosner, D., & Markowitz, G. (1999). Labor Day and the war on workers. American journal of public health89(9), 1319–1321. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1508763/

[3] United States Department of Labor. (n.d.). Hazard identification and assessment. Retrieved from https://www.osha.gov/shpguidelines/hazard-Identification.html

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