April 28 marks the 25th anniversary of Workers’ Memorial Day in the United States. This worldwide day of reflection was designated to honor the workers who died of occupational injuries or illnesses.
In 2011, nearly 4,000 employees suffered fatal workplace injuries. Up until 3 years ago, these fatalities were improving, but have since remained flat, according to the National Safety Council. Additionally, an estimated 53,000 illness fatalities occur each year from exposure to occupational health hazards.
“The National Safety Council has been dedicated to keeping workplaces safe since its inception a century ago. While progress has been made, our ultimate goal is zero injuries, illnesses and deaths,” said NSC President and CEO Janet Froetscher. “This Workers’ Memorial Day our thoughts go out to the families who’ve lost loved ones. We will remain steadfast in our efforts to save lives and prevent injuries and illnesses.”
According to OSHA, Workers' Memorial Day “is a day to honor those workers who have died on the job, to acknowledge the grievous suffering experienced by families and communities, and to recommit ourselves to the fight for safe and healthful workplaces for all workers. It is also the day OSHA was established in 1971.”
From Tragedy to Prevention
The United Support and Memorial for Workplace Fatalities (USMWF), a support group for those who have been affected by preventable workplace fatalities or injuries, hopes to raise awareness about Workers’ Memorial Day to “transform tragedy into prevention.”
In an effort to put a human face on workplace fatalities, the USMWF Workers’ Memorial Day site includes a slideshow picturing workers who died on the job. Currently, the slideshow displays 125 photos of workers, including their names and causes of death. Timothy Miller, age 40, was electrocuted. Steven Michael Swain, age 27, was killed in a workplace explosion. Jin Chen, age 22, fell from a roof. These are just a few of the real workers who lost their lives at work.
“Over the years, our country has enacted laws to protect and ensure the safety of our citizens and their families in a variety of ways,” the USMWF site states. “We have enacted increasingly stringent seatbelt and child seat laws and fines for non-compliance. We protect our air travelers, skies, and country with increased airport security measures. We protect our citizens against criminal acts through increased criminal penalties, especially against the habitual and/or most egregious offenders ... We even protect the rights of those who do us harm. Should we not protect our workers at their jobs and their families in comparable ways?”
Commemorating Fallen Workers
The AFL-CIO offers suggestions for how citizens can commemorate Workers’ Memorial Day this year:
- Hold a candlelight vigil, memorial service of moment of silence to remember those who died on the job and to highlight any possible safety concerns in your community.
- Conduct workshops to education workers about job safety hazards and how to exercise job safety rights.
- Create a memorial at a workplace or in a community where employees have lost their lives on the job.
- Hold a public meeting with members of Congress in their home districts; bring injured workers and family members who can talk firsthand about the need for strong workplace safety protections.
To find an event in your area, visit OSHA’s list of local Workers’ Memorial Day events here.