Workers’ Memorial Day: April was Deadly Month for the American Worker

April 28, 2010
This year’s Workers’ Memorial Day, held April 28 to honor men and women who suffered job-related injury and death, comes on the heels of three high-profile, fatal workplace accidents. The April 2 Tesoro refinery explosion in Anacortes, Wash., led to seven fatalities; the April 5 Upper Big Branch Mine explosion in West Virginia killed 29 miners in the deadliest mining accident in recent history; and an April 20 explosion at an oil drilling platform has left 11 workers missing and presumed dead.

“The pain brought on by each of these tragedies is beyond comparison, and we should not think of the incidents as isolated,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “The fact is they all involve worker safety issues, which merit national attention and point to a disturbing pattern of deadly neglect that our country can no longer tolerate.”

Solis pointed out that more than 4.6 millions workers suffer serious job-related injuries each year, and every day, more than 14 American workers lose their lives in preventable workplace accidents.

“On this Workers Memorial Day, the mission of the Department of Labor’s worker safety and health protection agencies – MSHA and OSHA – is clearer than ever,” Solis said. “And, our effort to save lives – through enhanced enforcement, a forward looking and progressive regulatory agenda, expanded outreach and a relentless commitment to enforcing the law – has never been more necessary.

“So, let us honor the memory of fallen workers, and the pain of their families, by gathering our collective strength and making injury, illness and fatality prevention activities a priority – today and every day,” she said.

Howard: Rededicating to Safety

In honor of Workers’ Memorial Day, John Howard, M.D., director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NISOH) outlined both the challenges and opportunities that EHS professionals face in keeping workers safe.

“On Workers Memorial Day, April 28, we honor men and women who have suffered job-related injury, illness and death,” Howard said. “We recognize the immense toll that a loved one’s impairment or death imposes on families and communities. We rededicate ourselves to our national mission of eliminating dangerous conditions in the workplace.

“Although we have made great strides collectively since the passage of historic safety and health laws in 1969 and 1970, we are still far short of victory … [o]n average, more than 5,000 workers die each every year across the U.S. from fatal injuries. Some 49,000 workers are estimated to die every year from occupational illnesses that may take decades to develop after first exposure,” he continued.

In order to protect workers from job-related injury and death, Howard said that safety professionals must:

  • Work to eliminate the hazards the still persist in the industries on which our economy is built.
  • Anticipate and engage the health and safety needs of the changing workplace.
  • Develop and use new technologies and methodologies that will shape more rapid, more effective workplace interventions.

Howard also stressed that “scientific research is a fundamental driver of progress” and that NIOSH is leading strategic efforts to better understand and recognize occupational hazards and develop and evaluate preventative measures.

“We are committed to working with our diverse partners in those endeavors as wisely and as diligently as we can,” he said. “In memory of the men and women who are honored on Workers’ Memorial Day 2010, we can do no less.”

About the Author

Laura Walter

Laura Walter was formerly senior editor of EHS Today. She is a subject matter expert in EHS compliance and government issues and has covered a variety of topics relating to occupational safety and health. Her writing has earned awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE), the Trade Association Business Publications International (TABPI) and APEX Awards for Publication Excellence. Her debut novel, Body of Stars (Dutton) was published in 2021.

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