As if the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center towers more than 15 years ago weren’t painful enough, now a second wave of human suffering has been exposed. As we think about them and their bravery, let’s also think about ways to honor their sacrifice in the name of public service and to ease their enduring pain. One of the best ways to do just that might be to look closer at respiratory health issues in the workplace.

Workers facing daily risk

Of the top 10 most cited Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards violated in 2016, respiratory protection checked in at number four, behind fall protection (construction), hazard communication (general industry) and incidents involving scaffolding (construction). These are common to OSHA’s annual top 10 list of safety violations. OSHA’s standards exist to protect employees from illness, injuries and death. Too often, they are taken for granted or ignored all together.

OSHA estimates 5 million workers wear respirators in 1.3 million workplaces throughout the United States. These respirators are designed to protect workers from substances that might cause breathing problems or lead to lung disease: dust, fumes, smoke, gases, vapors and mists.

Benefits of safety

Employers can save lives and save money by adhering or exceeding OSHA standards. In the case of respiratory health, this means establishing or maintaining a respiratory protection program. Start by recognizing chemicals, physical, biological and ergonomics hazards that may be present in the workplace. Be sure to include thorough training on respirator use and to offer regular medical evaluations for at-risk employees.

“Injuries and illness lead to increased employer costs for insurance premiums and workers’ compensation claims.”

Keeping a healthy workforce is part of keeping a healthy bottom line. Injuries and illness lead to increased employer costs for insurance premiums and workers’ compensation claims. Motivate employees to look out for themselves.

Motivating employee safety

In general, there are five things workers can do on their own or as part of an incentivized employee safety and health program. Increase walking speed, perhaps as part of a fitness regimen, is one. Another is maintaining a healthy weight. Does your organization sponsor a biggest loser contest? It should.

Thirdly, employees in any industry need to stay hydrated. You should also incentivize them to avoid smoking. Research indicates workers who smoke are at much greater risk of lung disease if they are exposed to substances in the workplace. Excessive heat, closed-in workspaces and improper ventilation can put workers at risk, too. Lastly, encourage workers to take vitamin supplements to help regulate how DNA functions in the lungs.

Let’s join to improve respiratory health in the workplace and make that an important part of the legacy of our 9/11 responders. In that way, something good still can emerge from the rubble.