Fifty years ago, John F. Kennedy gave a message to Congress about protecting consumer interests: "The march of technology, affecting, for example, the foods we eat, the medicines we take, and the many appliances we use in our homes, has increased the difficulties of the consumer along with his opportunities." Kennedy listed four basic principles, which he called The Consumer Bill of Rights. His idea was to protect the consumer against the risks of an increasing number and complexity of new products. The four tenets of his Consumer Bill of Rights were: the right to safety, the right to be informed, the right to choose and the right to be heard.
What was really fascinating about Kennedy's speech is that he never mentioned the environment. It was only later that year. in 1962, that The New Yorker magazine began publishing a series of exposes on the harmful effects of the chemical industry on the environment. These were written by Rachel Carson and eventually were put into book form under the name Silent Spring. That was the start of the environmental movement. While my columns tend to focus on environmental issues that are caused by our technology, I think that 50 years after the Kennedy speech on the Consumer Bill of Rights, it is more than appropriate to revisit one very important aspect of that talk; namely, the right to safety.
Kennedy was interested in consumer protection against the marketers of goods which are hazardous to "health or life." Wfeilh I acknowledge the importance of consumer safety, I believe there is another important right to safety and that is safety in the work environment. Today we seem to be more focused on the "Kennedy safety" because of the profusion of product development. Since World War II, the number of goods in a typical grocery store has quadrupled from 1,500 to over 6,000. Today, between 30,000 and 40.000 new products enter the market every year, and like it or not, their exact contents and environmental and human health effects are generally unknown. While consumer interest in "green" and environmentally friendly products has grown, what has happened in the workplace? How do we prioritize safety in our plants and offices? It is one thing to talk about consumer safety but totally incongruous, in my view, if wc don't use and implement safe practices in our factories. The two have to go hand in hand.
Let me give you some facts. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that a total of 4,547 workers...