OSHA Marks Worker Memorial Day: Policy, Poetry and a Preacher

In a break from recent tradition, OSHA observed Worker Memorial Day with an eclectic program at its Washington, DC headquarters.

In a break from recent tradition, OSHA observed Worker Memorial Day with an eclectic program at its Washington, DC headquarters.

At a time when overall workplace fatalities are falling, the primary focus of the April 26 event was the agency''s effort to combat the rising number of Hispanic workers who die on the job.

John Henshaw, assistant secretary of labor for OSHA and the highest- ranking Labor Department official at the ceremony, used the occasion to announce two new data initiatives.

OSHA will soon begin to collect data on country of origin and primary language capability for all workers involved in fatality or other serious accident investigations.

The agency will shortly begin to collect data from 13,000 employers in the construction industry, where many Hispanic workers die each year.

Henshaw explained that the construction industry effort would resemble the Site Specific Targeting program that has been used in general industry. The information gathered from employers is designed to help OSHA target inspections on sites with higher than average injury and illness rates. It will also enable OSHA to direct its outreach and compliance assistance to those employers who would benefit from these programs.

The was a whiff of religion at the event, in the person of Pete McKinnis, pastor of Higher Praise Outreach Ministries and a member of Henshaw''s staff. McKinnis quoted I Thessalonians 5:12, "We beseech you, my brothers, to respect those who labor among you."

Vivian Allen, a program analyst in OSHA''s Office of Policy, read "I Hear America Singing," by Walt Whitman.

Henshaw said one purpose of having the worker memorial ceremony at OSHA headquarters was to remind himself and OSHA personnel of the purpose of their work. The OSHA administrator made a third announcement: henceforth he will write personally to the families of workers killed on the job to express OSHA''s sorrow over their loss. Currently this job falls to OSHA area directors.

In a briefing after the ceremony Henshaw said that Ron Hayes helped prepare the letter that will be sent to the workers'' families.

"I think it is important that Washington feels the pain surrounding the loss of life," said Henshaw. "I want to elevate this to the assistant secretary''s office. I think it will help the families and the agency."

Despite Hayes'' evident involvement in this initiative - he was quoted in an OSHA press release prepared for the Worker Memorial Day - Hayes was not present for the ceremony at OSHA''s Washington, DC headquarters.

In a telephone interview, Hayes had this to say about his absence:

"I am very disappointed that I was not present at today''s program. I feel that if OSHA is truly standing up for the American worker, I should have been there."

by James Nash ([email protected])

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