Earned Sick Days Contribute to Safe Workplaces

By Lauren French

More than 4,000 hard working men and women die on the job every year, and tens of thousands more are injured or become ill from diseases contracted at work. To commemorate these workers and promote safer working conditions, we will observe Workers’ Memorial Day on April 28.

This date marks the anniversary of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the U.S. federal law aimed at assuring safe working conditions. Although we have made great strides in workplace safety in the 43 years since the Act passed, there is still room for significant improvement. And earned sick days advocates have an important role to play in the ongoing fight to improve workers’ health and safety

Research shows a significant correlation between the availability of earned sick days and the occurrence of non-fatal workplace injuries. One study by Abay  Aswfaw revealed that workers with earned sick days are 28 percent less likely than those without sick days to be injured on the job. This finding is in line with basic common sense, which tells us that employees who go to work sick are not operating at their best. The authors explain that “sick or stressed workers who continue to work are likely to take medications, experience sleep problems, or be fatigued”—all conditions that can lead to being injured on the job.

When workers can earn sick days to address or prevent illness and injury, it not only protects workers—it makes economic sense too. In one year, workplace illnesses and injuries cost the U.S. economy $250 billion in healthcare services, lost earnings, and home production. Of that total, up to $39 billion is born by low-wage workers, who are also the least likely to have access to earned sick days. Ensuring workers have the right to earn sick days is a common sense way to protect workers’ safety and a “profit-maximizing strategy” for employers that prevents lost productivity, large medical bills, high turnover, and worker’s compensation payouts.

On Workers’ Memorial Day, it is important that we remember those workers who have been killed or injured while taking steps to prevent future tragedies. Earned sick days advocates can contribute by using these talking points to highlight the important connections between access to this basic labor standard and improved health and safety. This week—and every week—please consider incorporating facts about worker safety into your blogs, newsletters, and other advocacy pieces. Let’s work together to fight for our nation’s workers.