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Provided courtesy of The American Presidency Project.  John Woolley and Gerhard Peters. University of California, Santa Barbara.
  155. Address Before the President's Conference on Industrial Safety  
June 5, 1950

Mr. Secretary of Labor, ladies and gentlemen of the conference:

I am very glad to welcome you to the second session of this conference on industrial safety.

What I am trying to do is to save people from unnecessary death and permanent disability. We have saved over 40,000 lives and untold numbers from total disability in highway safety conferences.

As a result of last year's conference, we have saved as many as a thousand lives and a great number from total disability.

Now, we are going to continue in our efforts to make it safe for the people in this country to live and enjoy life. It is up to you gentlemen to improve and improve and improve, until we arrive at the point where we will really have very few accidents and very few deaths in this industrial organization of ours.

The conference met last year to launch a long-range program of cooperative action to reduce accidents among industrial workers. You are now meeting again to consider the progress that has been made and to improve the program for the years that lie ahead.

The progress you have made since last year is encouraging. It certainly shows that last year's conference and the program you adopted then were worthwhile. However, we have no cause for complacency.

Last year, we set a goal--to cut the job accident rate in half by the end of 1952. The figures now available show that in 1949 the number of work injuries was reduced by 7 percent--only 7 percent in 1949. You see what you have got ahead of you now, if you reach the goal in 1952--at the end of 1952. That is 7 percent of progress, but it is not good enough. We can do better than that and I think we are going to do better than that.

I am most optimistic about our future progress in this field because of the way in which the great cooperative movement represented by this conference is gaining headway. State governments are more and more accepting their responsibility to carry the message of safety to every business establishment, large and small. State Governors are giving their wholehearted cooperation. Many of them are holding State conferences patterned after this national conference.

One measure of the growing interest in industrial safety is the large attendance here today. Many of you come from organizations and industries which were not represented last year. Others are here for the first time because their interest has been aroused by the State conferences. I join with the other veterans of last year's conference in expressing our pleasure at having new recruits added to our ranks. I am sure that you will bring new vigor to our endeavors.

The task to which you have set your hand is a worthy one. It is vital to our country both in terms of human happiness and in economic well-being. Few tasks are more important than to prevent suffering and to save lives.

The great tragedy of accidents is that most of them need never have happened. I have heard it said that "accident" is just another word for carelessness. There is much truth in that. I become impatient--and I'm sure you do, too--when I think of all the misery and hardship that result from just plain carelessness or indifference on the part of employers and employees.

To my mind, the number of work injuries that are suffered in the United States each year is absolutely inexcusable. Certainly it is appalling. In 1949, 15,000 persons were killed in work accidents and 79,000 were permanently disabled. The total number of injuries resulting in a loss of time from work is estimated at 1,870,000 people. It is difficult to realize the significance of these figures in terms of human suffering and economic loss. We may understand them better if we stop to think that as many people were killed as if the city of Plymouth, Mass., had been completely wiped out.

We didn't pay any attention to those killings-those 15,000 killings--because they happened separately and one at a time. But if the city of Plymouth, Mass., had been wiped out, we would be doing everything we could to prevent the thing that caused that disaster.

As many were permanently disabled as if all the people in Durham, N.C., had been laid low with some dread disease from which they could never fully recover. Now, if that had happened, we would have done just what we would have done in the case of Plymouth, Mass. We would have put every effort--Government, local, State, and national-into the thing to try and prevent it from happening again.

And the total number of injured was as great as the entire population of the State of Oregon, or any one of a number of other States. Now, that is appalling--that is simply appalling. That is the reason I called you here, to see if we could do something about it. That is the reason I call these highway conferences, to see if we can do something about the slaughter that takes place on the highways. That is tremendous, and it is appalling.

And, you know, organizations such as this are much more effective in the program which we are trying to put over than anything that the Government can do by law or by action. There must be complete cooperation of the people who are in the industry, if we are going to stop this. This same thing is true on the highways.

This is a situation we cannot tolerate. We must go forward with our efforts to cut down industrial accidents. The public interest and our own personal interests demand it.

So far as this conference is concerned, I want it to become the strongest possible organization of cooperating agencies, public and private, dedicated to the prevention of job injuries. I believe its committees should function the year round to survey safety problems and to develop recommendations for their solution. I want these committees to help apply their recommendations to every workplace in the Nation. I hope that every organization represented in this conference will give serious study to your recommendations and will do its best to put them into effect.

I hope the States which have not yet held industrial safety conferences will be inspired by those which have--and will organize such meetings as soon as they can. I hope that as conferences are held, each State will provide for a permanent, continuing, voluntary organization of business, labor, and other leaders to carry the safety message to every plant and factory.

We must concentrate on reaching the smaller firms which have no organized safety programs. At least 70 percent of the job accidents occur in the small firms.

We must persuade managers of businesses to work for safety. They need to design safety into their plants, machinery, and equipment. They need sound safety organizations-and sound safety organizations are the greatest asset that business can have-though not necessarily expensive ones. They need to train supervisors and workers. They need close worker-management cooperation for safety.

You have Government cooperation on this. You have got not only Government cooperation with management and the people who work, but you must have the cooperation of the Government and the local authorities to help meet the situation with which you are faced.

We must persuade workers and their unions to cooperate fully in developing safety programs and observing safe work practices. Every worker should understand clearly the loss of wages and the human suffering that result from injuries.

This is the kind of message you who are attending this conference should carry home with you. We must arouse all our citizens to join together in preventing the needless accidents that do so much to deprive our people of their happiness and rob our Nation of its strength.

In these times we cannot afford to be wasteful of our national strength. The United States and other free nations throughout the world are challenged by the threat of totalitarianism. To meet that threat successfully requires the good health and the vigorous effort of all our citizens. Our task is neither an easy one nor a short one.

Make no mistake about it. The most important job for you and me and every other American today, is to do our full share in preserving freedom and establishing peace in the world.

Some people would have us forget that fact and draw back into our shell while the totalitarian tide rolls over the world. Others, at the opposite extreme, cry hysterically for us to turn ourselves into an armed camp overnight--without regard to what happens to the rest of our national life. Neither of these courses will meet the problem.

What is called for is a program that will create the greatest possible national strength--civilian and military combined-over a period of years. This Nation's voice in the world can never be any stronger than our national economy and the will of our people to defend our way of life. That is why it is so important that we press forward with programs to increase our productive capacity and improve our standard of living. That is why it is more important than ever for us to prevent the losses that result from industrial accidents. We cannot afford wasted resources or wasted lives.

The work you are doing here today is in the best traditions of democracy. It represents the finest kind of voluntary cooperation between private and public groups. It is aimed at a problem which is vital to us-both as individuals and as a great Nation.

To the extent that you succeed in your efforts, the richness and dignity of human life in the world will be increased and the cause of peace and freedom will be strengthened.
Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 11:05 a.m. in the Departmental Auditorium in Washington. In his opening words he referred to Secretary of Labor Maurice J. Tobin. The conference was held in Washington June 5, 6, and 7, 1950.
Provided courtesy of The American Presidency Project.  John Woolley and Gerhard Peters. University of California, Santa Barbara.