I need your help. There’s a clip from an old song playing in my head that “something is happening here, but what it is, is not exactly clear.” Hopefully after reading this article you will drop me an email, with subject lineISHNHelp, at dan.markiewicz@gmail.com with your views on the problem below and how it may impact our safety and health jobs.

Health and safety of children

This past February 2007, UNICEF’s (United Nations Children’s Fund) Innocenti Research Center released Report Card 7 “An Overview of child wellbeing in rich countries,” http://www.unicef-icdc.org/presscentre/presskit/reportcard7/rc7_eng.pdf. The Report Card ranked child wellbeing in six categories. <em>In the health and safety category, the United States ranked at the very bottom among 25 rich countries.</em> Components for the health and safety rank were child health at age 0-1, preventative heath services, and safety (i.e. deaths from accidents and injuries).


One of the stated purposes of UNICEF’s Report Card is to “stimulate discussion and development of policies to improve children’s lives.” This is one reason why I am asking for your input.

How does the United States measure up?

The Institute for Health and Social Policy at McGill University addressed that very question in the February 2007 report “The Work, Family and Equity Index,” http://www.mcgill.ca/files/ihsp/WFEIFinal2007.pdf. The report compared public policies for working families in 177 countries. A key finding of the report states: “When it comes to ensuring decent working conditions for families, the latest research shows many U.S. public policies still lag dramatically behind all high-income countries, as well as many middle- and low-income countries.”

Lesotho, Liberia, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland — you may not be familiar with these countries but add the United States to the list. These are the only countries in the world that “do not guarantee any paid leave for mothers in any segment of the work force.”

Other findings in the equity index report that may reflect poorly on the social policies in the United States are:

  • 66 countries ensure that fathers receive paid paternity/parental leave. The U.S. has no guarantees in this area.
  • 137 countries mandate paid annual leave. The U.S. does not require employers to provide paid annual leave.
  • 134 countries have laws that fix the maximum length of the work week. The U.S. does not have a law for the maximum length of the work week or a limit on mandatory overtime per week.
  • 126 countries require employers to provide a mandatory day of rest each week. The U.S. does not guarantee workers this 24-hour break.

  • Why does it matter?

    The index report attempts to answer this question. The report claims that lack of social policies, such as not providing paid leave for childbearing or no paid leave for illness and family care, eventually impacts the health and wellbeing of children. This brings us back to the UNICEF report where we find that the U.S. ranks last among rich countries in children’s health and safety. And it brings us to the thought on what policies the United States may develop to improve children’s lives.

    Rising political clout

    “Mom’s Mad. And She’s Organized.” This February 22, 2007, article in The New York Times caught my eye. The Times article points out that U.S. mothers (who hold jobs outside of the home) are in larger numbers than ever before, and they’re not happy. They feel that there should be more social and private policies to address their special needs in the workplace. Unlike years past, however, these moms are banding together and have considerable political clout.

    MomsRising, established in May 2006, is one example. Membership in the group has been growing at more than 10,000 per month. In September 2006, Senators Ted Kennedy, Christopher Dodd, and Democratic presidential frontrunners, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, spoke at an event in Washington to support MomsRising’s causes, including promotion of the book and documentary film “The Motherhood Manifesto.”

    At-risk group?

    Are we safety and health pros missing something? In U.S. safety and health journals and technical sessions in safety and health conferences, I’ve seen plenty of discussion about at-risk worker populations including young and old workers, immigrant workers, Hispanic-speaking workers, and workers with disabilities. I’ve seen limited discussion about women’s health, but I haven’t seen any discussions specifically about moms as an at-risk worker population.

    Do you think U.S.-employed moms are going to get more legislative support in the future? If legislation is likely, what may it look like and how may it impact U.S. safety and health pros? Will changes improve children’s health?