Whether you know it as Workers’ Memorial Day, the Day of Mourning or World Day for Safety and Health at Work (or something else), April 28 is all about the men and women who paid the ultimate price for earning a paycheck – and what we can do to prevent future workplace fatalities.
The day dedicated to fallen workers “reminds us that every death, injury or illness on the job represents a human tragedy,” NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard said.
“Behind each statistic is the loss of a loved one’s life, the diminution or loss of a father’s or mother’s ability to provide for family needs, or a medical crisis that can have lifelong consequences,” Howard added.
While Monday, April 28, is the official observance of Workers’ Memorial Day, unions, advocacy groups and safety agencies made the most of the occasion, holding ceremonies and events before and after the official day.
On Friday, April 25, the Philadelphia AFL-CIO and the Philadelphia Area Project on Occupational Safety and Health held the 26th annual Workers’ Memorial Day Breakfast and Observance – one of many observances that took place in Pennsylvania over the weekend.
The Washington state Department of Labor and Industries will hold its annual Workers’ Memorial Day ceremony on Tuesday, April 29, at the department’s office in Tumwater, Wash., with Gov. Jay Inslee and labor and business leaders scheduled to attend. The event will include a reading of the names of the 65 Washington workers who died in 2013 – including a cell-tower climber, a lab worker, a chef, a school superintendent, truck drivers, mechanics, firefighters, loggers and farm workers.
"Worker Memorial Day is a somber reminder of the importance of workplace safety and health. Where workplace hazards exist, workers are at risk," said Joel Sacks, director of the Department of Labor and Industries. "There's no better way to honor these workers than by dedicating ourselves to making sure these tragedies don't happen again."
In Washington, D.C., OSHA Administrator Dr. David Michaels and MSHA Administrator Joe Main spoke as part of a Workers’ Memorial Day program that focused on toxic-chemical exposure.
“American workers use tens of thousands of chemicals every day,” Michaels wrote in an April 25 blog post. “While many of these chemicals are known or suspected of being harmful, we have workplace exposure standards for only a small fraction. Workers pay the price for lack of regulation – workplace chemical exposures that have already occurred are responsible for tens of thousands of worker deaths every year.”
Michaels added that OSHA soon “will be calling on employers, unions, workers, safety and health professionals and researchers to engage in a conversation on how to better protect workers from these serious chemical hazards.”
The International Labor Organization also used the occasion to spotlight chemical hazards, promoting its February 2014 report “Safety and Health in the Use of Chemicals at Work.”
In British Columbia, where 128 workers died on the job in 2013, safety leaders acknowledged the fallen on Canada’s Day of Mourning but also issued a call to action.
“There are over half a million worksites and over 2 million workers in this province,” said George Morfitt, chairman of WorkSafeBC’s board of directors. “We must remain vigilant about health and safety for every worker in every workplace, whether that’s in an emergency room, on a construction site, in the woods or on the farm. We owe that – whether we’re an employer, a union, a worker or a member of WorkSafeBC – to every man and woman working across B.C.”
April 28 marks the day that OSHA was established in 1971. Prior to OSHA’s inception, some 14,000 U.S. workers died on the job every year. While the most recent BLS statistics show that 4,383 workers died on the job in 2012, there’s still more work to be done.
“As we reflect on the many ways in which our lives have changed since the first Workers' Memorial Day, we must remember that our duty to prevent work-related injury, illness and death remains unchanged,” Howard said. “It continues to demand our best efforts to make every workplace safe for every working person, every working hour.”