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Worker Memorial Day Honors Those Who Have Died on the Job

In 2003, 5,559 people in the United States left for work and never came home.

The year before, 5,534 people suffered the same fate leaving empty seats at the kitchen table, bereaved families and co-workers and shoes that often aren't easy to fill by their employers.

While the most recent U.S. government data indicates that non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses have declined, even one worker dying on the job is unacceptable to the occupational and environmental health and safety community.

That's why April 28, Workers Memorial Day, is an important one.

The United States observed the first Workers Memorial Day in 1989, with April 28 chosen as the date because it marks the anniversary of the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970. Workers Memorial Day is a day to pay tribute to those who have perished on the job and a day for safety and health stakeholders to recommit themselves to the mission of preventing all workplace fatalities in the future.

"On this Worker Memorial Day we remember and pay tribute to those who have died in pursuit of their livelihoods," Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Jonathan Snare said. "We honor their memories and rededicate ourselves to our purpose: to foster safer and more healthful workplaces for all workers in America."

It may be known by slightly different names in other countries, but the sentiment is the same all across the world.

In Canada, April 28 has been declared a Day of Mourning to honor those who have been killed or injured in the workplace. The House of Commons and many provinces and municipalities in Canada observe the Day of Mourning with a moment's silence, while flags fly at half-mast on municipal buildings and provincial and territorial legislatures.

The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions recognizes April 28 as International Commemoration Day for Dead and Injured Workers. The organization said it expected at least 6 million people worldwide to participate in activities commemorating "workers who have died or been injured in the last 12 months by unsustainable forms of work and production."

Here in the United States, it's estimated that more than 306,706 workers' lives have been spared because of the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. But that's of little solace to the loved ones of the 5,559 people who died on the job in 2003 and the estimated 50,000, according to the AFL-CIO, who died from occupational diseases.

"Today, we remember those workers who have passed; but, we also renew our commitment to work hard every day to prevent workplace loss of life," Snare said. "We remain steadfast in our mission to bring every worker home safe and healthy every day our nation's workers and their families deserve no less."

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