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Remembering and Rebuilding: Workers’ Memorial Day

F Marie Athey OHST April 8, 2014 0
Remembering and Rebuilding: Workers’ Memorial Day

Worker’s Memorial Day

Each day in the United States, 12 employees die while performing work-related activities.  On April 28, we observe and remember every person who died on the job due to workplace injuries.  Workers’ Memorial Day is also a time to renew our commitment to employee safety and improve our efforts to create a safer workplace for all.  When a worker dies, it affects coworkers, businesses, families, and communities.  The repercussions of a workplace fatality are long lasting and far reaching beyond social issues.  There is a severe economic burden with a hefty price tag as well.  Employees remember—no one forgets—where they were and what they were doing the day a coworker dies.  Unfortunately, only in the aftermath of this tragedy do most companies become active about preventing injuries and fatalities.

According to OSHA statistics, worker deaths have decreased from 38 per day in 1970 to 12 per day in 2012.  It has now been four decades since OSHA, MSHA, and various state partners began working hand in hand to initiate significant improvements in preventing work-related fatalities, illnesses, and injuries.  However, there’s still much work to be done in the prevention of these needless tragedies.  A study suggests that, if you put inflation into consideration, the cost of workplace injuries and illness has risen by 33 billion dollars since 1992.  Most of the cost of these injuries is absorbed by employer-provided health insurance, Medicaid, and Medicare.  Another study noted that 25 percent of the costs of workplace injuries and illnesses are actually covered by workers compensation insurance.  This means that, in most cases, these safety issues will not be resolved if it will not truly affect the employers’ bottom line.

A report by the National Safety council for Occupational Safety and Health highlights stories of workers killed on the job and touches on occupational hazards that many workers experience.  We all have to do our part to prevent on-the-job injuries, illnesses, and fatalities.  The most successful safety and health programs start with executive buy-in and support.  All employees must receive training to recognize, report, and prevent hazards in the workplace.

Temporary employees and new hires have the highest risk of workplace fatality because they have limited experience or refuse to admit that they do not know the safety necessities because they really need a job.  Forward-thinking companies that take pride in their safety programs have special training in place for new hires and may even group them with more experienced workers while they learn the ropes.  These companies will also not allow new hires or temporary employees to work until their training has been completed.  These are just a few ideas to incorporate in your current training plan.

Basta Con Las Muertes!  This means “enough deaths!” in Spanish.  Your employees need training in a language that they can understand.  The death toll of immigrant workers in the US continues to increase at alarming rates.  For 15 years, the fatality rate for Latinos has been the highest among all groups.  Studies show that immigrant workers are more likely to work in risky jobs compared to native-born workers—particularly in agriculture and construction.  These are two of the most dangerous industries in the US.  Latino workers have a lower rate of reporting unsafe conditions due to fear of retaliation.

The good news is that fatalities, injuries, and illnesses are preventable.  Together, employers and employees can do their part to prevent such tragedies.  Take time out with your employees on April 28 to have a real discussion about safety and why it is important.  Several national organizations will hold events to commemorate fallen workers and bring awareness to health and safety in the workplace. Look for local events and participate.  Hold a safety stand down within your organization and remind employees why it is crucial to stay safe.

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