Columns/Opinion, Letters to the Editor

Workers Memorial Day time to support safety

Stacy North, Mon Preston Labor Council, Morgantown

In 1970, the AFL-CIO declared April 28 Workers Memorial Day, after passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
Workers Memorial Day is now recognized internationally as a day of remembrance for workers who were killed, injured or struck by disease or illness on the job. Working people and unions spent countless hours since then to improve workplaces and make them safer, and yet in 2016 almost 5,200 people were killed on the job. This is the highest number in years.
In 2015, private employers reported 2.9 million nonfatal injuries and illnesses. State and local governments reported 752,600 nonfatal injuries or illnesses. Each year, more than 50,000 workers die from exposures to toxic chemicals and other health hazards.

These workplace fatalities, injuries and illnesses are not just a tragedy for the families and loved one of those afflicted; the effects ripple out to all of us.
The affected family suffers a loss of income.
A child grows up without a parent. The community suffers the loss of a productive citizen. The company experiences a loss of an experienced worker and resulting loss of productivity. We all suffer when someone gets hurt unnecessarily.
Workers Memorial Day is more than a day of remembrance though; it is a day we can pledge to refine and strengthen workplace safety. We can support workers’ rights to have a voice in the workplace and join a union. We can support workers who are fighting to prevent the slashing of safety budgets. We can support the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Mine Safety and Health Administration and the rules of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which works to provide research and make recommendations for better practices.
These agencies need the accurate data from employers on workplace injuries and fatalities. The regulations which require that data be kept were rolled back by Congress. The agencies need to be fully staffed and their budgets need to be restored.
Today, let’s remember the words of Mother Jones, “Pray for the dead. Fight like hell for the living.”