A Legacy of Service
From its inception in the Great Depression to today's recession, this publication has been a continual resource for worker protection.
Summing up a life's work should produce an honest tribute, one that gives appropriate credit to mentors, predecessors, and other important influences. Many safety and health professionals have contributed immensely to this magazine’s success during its long history, and only a handful of them were paid staffers. The OH&S roster of authors, columnists, editors, technical editors, photographers, art directors, production chiefs, webinar presenters, sales and circulation managers, publishers, and owners is far too long to repeat here.
What has the magazine accomplished? It has chronicled a gradual but quickening worldwide commitment to prevent harm to workers. Along the way, it has reported on the people, the products, the trailblazers, and the investments that combined to achieve this sea change while turning a spotlight on problems that stubbornly persist, are ignored, or are emerging, such as avian flu and distracted driving. (Speaking of persistence, how often has OH&S cheered seeing U.S. workplace fatalities drop to all-time lows while mourning the failures causing more than 4,000 workers to die every year?)
As persistent and frustrating as today’s worker fatality rate is, especially to safety professionals, it is sobering to remember a time when that rate was almost three times as high, which was the case in 1932, the year this magazine was first published. The national unemployment rate during that year of bank crashes, business failures, and bread lines was a staggering 24.1 percent (compare that to today's 8.1 percent), which was exceeded the following year when the rate rose to 24.9 percent and workplace fatalities likewise increased to 13,000 per 100,000 workers.
Such was the bleak backdrop against which this magazine was born, when a small publishing company set up shop in Chicago at 844 Rush St. and, in October 1932, produced Volume 1, Number 1 of what was then called Industrial Medicine. The inspiration for the new magazine started with Chicago attorney Arthur David Cloud, an Iowa native whom associates described as a poet and a champion of workers' rights. Almost two years earlier, Cloud had established a small magazine called Industrial Relations that covered pension systems, bonuses, welfare policies, profit-sharing plans, and similar topics. But toward the end of 1931, he met Dr. Durward R. Jones, medical director of the Sherwin-Williams Co., who convinced Cloud that the industrial medical department was the most important aspect of industrial relations and the aspect most in need of a specialized magazine. Jones introduced Cloud to Dr. Clarence Olds Sappington, the National Safety Council's Division of Industrial Health director, who himself had been considering the need for a professional journal devoted to industrial medicine. Together, in the midst of the Great Depression, these two made it happen.
By all accounts, Sappington's behind-the-scenes work was instrumental, but he was not listed in the staff box until Issue 2, in November, and even then only as a consultant. Issue 1 listed Jones as editor and Cloud as managing editor, but the inaugural editorial, "The Industrial Physician," was all Cloud. In the piece, essentially a manifesto, he declared the new journal's intentions of focusing on the worker's right to a safe workplace and competent health care: "Technological developments, certain legal problems, plant sanitation, health maintenance and the general welfare of employees make the application of the special knowledge of the physician an industrial necessity," he wrote. "To correct occupational disease and accident hazards and to prevent legal complications it is essential that particular attention be paid to the hygiene and sanitation of the workers' environment. The preservation of the health of the worker through the prevention of disease and accidental injury add to the efficiency of both the wage earner and industry."
The magazine's mission these 80 years later is essentially the same. Substitute the words "safety professional" for "physician" in the lines above and they easily could be included in any editorial this year. Similarly, the subjects covered in that first issue--topics ranging from machine guarding, lead poisoning, and dust sampling apparatus to physical exams, hand and foot protection, worker's compensation claims for silicosis, and more--are redolent of material appearing today in any given issue.
Given the prevailing social and economic turmoil, the magazine's first few years were shaky and marked by erratic hiatuses of sometimes up to six months between issues, but, thanks to the sponsorship of various medical and industrial associations, publication continued. By 1936, both the economy and Industrial Medicine were showing signs of increasing stability, and before the end of the decade, it was clear the magazine had beaten the odds stacked against it by the Depression.
Decades of Change
Throughout the New Deal Years and World War II, Industrial Medicine came into its own, evolving as the industrial world and the nation itself evolved, covering such disparate topics as "Maternity Care and Employment of Mothers" (October 1942) and "The Atom Bomb" (June 1946), a seminal piece on the subject by Dr. Stafford Warren.
With the war's end, the journal shrank, and by mid-1949 a change was afoot with its title; on the covers of the June and July issues, it was called Industrial Medicine and Surgery of Trauma, but by the August issue it was listed as the slightly shorter Industrial Medicine and Surgery, as it would remain for almost two decades, becoming well known in those years by the initials IMS.
Throughout the 1950s, atomic energy and radiation remained the subjects of frequent coverage, and articles and editorials on cigarette smoking and cancer began appearing. The Surgeon General's Advisory Committee did not issue its milestone report on smoking's hazards until January 1964, but, disturbingly, this magazine was still publishing tobacco ads as late as 1969.
A change in ownership took place in early 1958; by April, Cloud was moved from publisher to editorial consultant. In July, headquarters for the new Industrial Medicine Publishing Co. were listed as being in Miami, but editorial output remained seamless. During this period, the magazine focused perceptibly more and more on industrial hygiene, occupational hazards, and the work experience of employees. Long gone were the graphically demonstrated surgical procedures, to which the journal had devoted a healthy portion of its pages during its first two decades. Articles in the May 1959 issue focusing on "The Psychological Aspects of Accident Causation" and "The Effect of Footgear Upon the Energy Cost of Walking" are examples of this shift.
Federal activity in the realm of industrial medicine--or, more accurately now, occupational health and safety--increased during the 1960s, as did the journal's continued shift in emphasis toward more worker-centric coverage. This move was subtly encapsulated with the addition of a new tag line below the title on the August 1962 cover: "Devoted to the Conservation of Health in the Worker's Total Environment." Two months later, the magazine celebrated its 30th anniversary and editorially declared a new beginning to the whole approach to industrial medicine. Noting that the "precepts and concepts that well served to govern the industrial medical programs for the past two generations are now outmoded," IMS editors said the industrial physician now "must move into the total environment, the total community--into all in health that shapes the worker as the worker. The industrial physician must join forces with family and community physicians and the official public health officer, all to the end that the worker may be clothed in added protection against the threats to his health from the total environment."
The Watershed '70s
On Dec. 29, 1970, President Richard Nixon signed the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the ramifications of that law have been part of this magazine's contents ever since. But December 1970 was also important to the publication in a far less obvious way because that was its final issue under ownership of the Industrial Medicine Publishing Co. The new owner--announced in the first issue of 1971, which did not appear until April--was Medical Publications for Industry Inc., based in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. From that year on, the magazine's contents largely focused on the new federal mandates.
The early '70s were lean years for the publication, with most issues averaging a mere 30 pages--the least in its long history. The situation did not immediately improve when, in the July/August 1973 issue, another new owner was announced: Medical Publications Inc., owned by Stevens Publishing Corp. of Northbrook, Ill. Craig S. Stevens was listed as publisher in that issue, beginning his long relationship with the magazine.
Aside from returning the publication to near its geographic roots, Stevens soon implemented changes designed to appeal to and serve the needs of all safety disciplines affected by the OSH Act. Such initial changes included installing Charles R. Goerth as executive editor--the first non-medical doctor to fill the post in the magazine's history--and, more visibly, changing the name of the magazine in 1974 from Industrial Medicine and Surgery to International Journal of Occupational Health & Safety. Proud of the magazine's heritage and wanting to provide continuity with its past, Stevens maintained the volume numbering established in 1932.
With Volume 45, 1976, the magazine's title was streamlined to Occupational Health & Safety, the name it has published under since. At the start of 1978, Stevens moved the company to Waco, Texas, and by the September/October issue that year he was listed as both publisher and editor of the magazine, a dual post he would occupy through January 1981. From then on, a long succession of men and women served as editor of OH&S, each averaging about a year in the post. It would be another decade and a half before the magazine had anything resembling the editorial stability of its earlier years.
The '80s and the '90s
Ten years after the formation of OSHA, the need for reform was definitely in the air. A plethora of articles dealing with the agency's enforcement activities during the previous decade and the subsequent move toward deregulation now occupied the pages of OH&S. Early in the '80s, the first news items about AIDS began to appear, and as the public's awareness and fears of the syndrome grew so did its frequency as a subject in OH&S. The Bhopal tragedy in 1984 challenged and changed the chemical industry and prompted articles. OSHA's revised hearing conservation amendment in March 1983 led to renewed discussion in the magazine of noise dosimetry and worker exposure; similarly, the agency's HazCom standard in 1986 and industrial helmets standard in 1988 inspired articles. Features on wellness programs in the workplace were new, as was OSHA's regulation mandating the use of lockouts during machinery repairs. Smoking and drug use in the workplace, while not new, received frequent attention, as did carpal tunnel syndrome and, more than ever now, ergonomics.
Articles on the use of computers in the workplace appeared frequently in the 1980s, but in the '90s they were ubiquitous. OSHA reform, the agency's lockout/tagout standard, ergonomics, robotics, asbestos removal, and worker protection from lasers continued to make news, but computers in general and software in particular (as well as the Internet, later in the decade) were discussed repeatedly in every issue.
The focus on AIDS in the '80s spawned many articles on bloodborne pathogens throughout the '90s. Other subjects appearing frequently during the decade included confined space hazards, behavior-based safety, the workplace implementation of automated external defibrillators, and safety incentives.
In February 1995, Stevens Publishing Corp. was listed as the trademark-holding owner of the magazine. This did not represent an ownership change so much as a mere labeling issue, because Stevens wholly owned Medical Publications Inc., which was previously listed. The magazine launched its website, www.ohsonline.com, in August 1996. In November 1997, Stevens Publishing relocated its headquarters from Waco to Dallas.
At the dawn of the new century, OH&S was doing its best to focus on all of the issues important to safety and health industries. Articles appearing early in the first two years covered workplace best practices and the latest innovations in the systems and equipment workers were using, with stories on speech recognition software, online safety training, on-site AEDs, the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act, ergonomics, oral fluid testing, workplace and domestic violence, lockout/tagout, MSDS management, and sundry other topics. It was business as usual. After Sept. 11, 2001, however, the magazine, reflecting the industries composing its audience, was galvanized in a new direction. Post-9/11 issues continued coverage of all the usual subjects, but in addition to those there was a sudden amplification of stories on emergency alarm systems, evacuation preparedness, biohazard control for mailrooms, airport screening, "white powder" incidents, and all manner of other Department of Homeland Security-related topics.
In April 2006, the magazine's ownership changed for the fourth time when 1105 Media Inc., a new company based in Chatsworth, Calif., acquired Stevens Publishing, ending Craig Stevens' association with the publication after 33 years, a span of time only Cloud before him had reached. Editorial offices have remained in Dallas.
The worldwide H1N1 influenza pandemic of 2009 was the biggest safety and health event during the past five years. It resulted in more than 18,449 deaths and confirmed cases in more than 200 countries or territories, according to the World Health Organization. The Feb. 7, 2008, explosion at Imperial Sugar's Port Wentworth, Ga., mill, which triggered an $8.7 million OSHA fine, also was a momentous event because it brought prolonged pressure on OSHA to regulate combustible dusts. The agency finally addressed them specifically in its March 2012 final rule aligning the Hazard Communication Standard with GHS.
Other milestone events during the past five years included these:
- Aug. 25, 2009: U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and a champion of workplace safety issues, dies of brain cancer at home in Hyannis Port, Mass.
- Oct. 20, 2009: OSHA issues the largest fine in its history, $87,430,000, to BP Products North America Inc. for the company's alleged failure to correct potential hazards at its Texas City, Texas refinery.
- April 5, 2010: An explosion in the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County, W.Va., kills 29 miners. In December 2011, the Mine Safety and Health Administration issues a record $10.8 million fine against Performance Coal Co., a subsidiary of Massey Energy Co., along with 369 citations and orders.
- April 20, 2010: A blowout and explosion occur on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers and causing a major oil spill. BP eventually takes a $37.2 billion charge in connection with the spill. In November 2011, the International Maritime Organization gives certificates to Chief Engineer Anthony Gervasio and Qualified Member of the Engineering Department Louis Longlois of the offshore supply boat Damon B. Bankston for their heroism in rescuing survivors after the explosion.
- August 5, 2010: OSHA files $16.6 million in penalties and 371 violations against three construction companies and 14 site contractors for the natural gas explosion that wrecked the Kleen Energy Systems LLC power plant on Feb. 7, 2010, as it was being built in Middletown, Conn. The blast killed six workers and injured 50 others.
- Oct. 8, 2010: The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries issues a record fine, $2.39 million, in connection with an April 2010 explosion and seven fatalities at the Tesoro petroleum refinery in Anacortes, Wash.
- Sept. 6, 2010: A section of a Pacific Gas & Electric natural gas pipeline ruptures in San Bruno, Calif., causing an explosion that kills eight people and destroys numerous homes.
- Dec. 19, 2010: In its journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, CDC reports sharply higher estimates of the extent of U.S. foodborne illnesses: About 48 million people (1 in 6 Americans) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year.
- March 11, 2011: An offshore earthquake triggers a devastating tsunami in northeastern Japan, killing thousands of people and also crippling the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Brave New World
Last October marked the 80th anniversary of this magazine's Depression-era debut. The accumulated volumes of its life contain a truly massive amount of knowledge and potentially life-saving learning, along with the occasional bit of poetry and underlying history of the times when each was produced. Revisiting the earliest of the volumes, reading firsthand the words of Cloud, Jones, Sappington, and all of the contributors, it is striking that so many of the topics concerning them are still of concern today. Many of the headlines placed over articles that appeared in 1932--"Eye Injuries and the Use of Safety Goggles," "Skin in Industry," "Carbon Tetrachloride: A Non-Technical Discussion of Its Toxicity," "Dust, Fumes, Vapors and Gases"--could easily fit atop 2012 articles. In many cases, only the particulars--the materials, the regulations, the designs--have changed, but because staying on top of such details is a crucial part of the safety professional's job, it is also a part of this magazine's mission. The same was true 80 years ago, when the nearest semblance of an OHS professional in the workplace was the practitioner of industrial medicine.
This article originally appeared in the July 2012 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.
Ronnie Rittenberry is Managing Editor of Occupational Health & Safety.
Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.