Since its inception in 1970, April 28 has been designated Workers’ Memorial Day, an international day of remembrance and action for workers killed, disabled, and injured by their work. It’s an important day to reflect on how far we’ve come in protecting workers, to remember and mourn those whose lives were lost to workplace accidents, and to reinvigorate our commitment to creating workplaces where all employees are safe.
In observance of Workers’ Memorial Day, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released the following statistics based on 2013 U.S. fatal injury data:
- 4,585 workers died from an injury suffered at work in 2013
- A worker died every two hours in the United States from a workplace injury in 2013
- Five of the workers killed were under the age of sixteen
- The rate of fatal injury for workers 65 and older is double that for all workers
- 50,000 people die each year from long-term exposure to workplace hazards
The second—and arguably most alarming—statistic was a focal point for this year’s memorial and featured in the Workers’ Memorial Day poster created by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Although the first statistic, 4,585 workers died from workplace injuries in 2013, is the second-lowest that number has been since BLS began publishing national data in 1992, there’s little cause for celebration for the family members and friends of those nearly 5,000 individuals who left for work one day and never came home.
The Workers’ Memorial Day page on OSHA’s website includes two video PSAs and an interactive map showcasing how the day was commemorated across different states. There are also links to a presidential proclamation and the secretary’s statement.
Headlines from across the country—and even around the world—shared how Workers’ Memorial Day 2015 was commemorated. Labor unions in Iowa held events across the state. A ceremony took place at the Fallen Workers Memorial on Capitol Mall in Salem, Massachusetts. Rallies were held in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Connecticut workers and officials gathered on the steps of the state capitol. In London, hotel industry workers held demonstrations calling for better working conditions. And a group of workplace safety advocates released a new database of workplace deaths in effort to better understand the circumstances surrounding them and help prevent future incidents.
The industry itself did a great job of spreading the message. This tough article by EHS Today tells the stories of seven of the lives lost to workplace accidents. And an article by Kyle Morrison for Safety + Health also pulls in the social media activity from the day.
Despite the slow yet steady decline of workplace deaths since the Occupational Safety and Health Act was first established in 1970, industry leaders and state officials agree that even one workplace death is too many. As stated by Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health David Michaels and Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Joseph A. Main in a joint-authored article for the Department of Labor blog, “When it comes to workplace fatalities and injuries, the only acceptable number is zero.”
Different groups and safety leaders cited what they saw as this year’s biggest challenges and offered unique perspectives on where to focus efforts for change. John Howard, the director for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) heralded healthcare workers for putting their lives on the line to combat Ebola but also recognized that a lack of adequate protective equipment put those workers at risk. Edward Wytkind, president of the transportation trades department, called attention to the fact that “America’s transportation workers are simply unable to get enough rest, putting themselves and other users of our transportation system at risk.” And Pete Stafford, the executive director at the Center for Construction Research and Training (CWPR), focused on falls as the leading cause of injury and death among construction workers, calling for a national Safety Stand-Down in early May to raise awareness for this important issue.
Across all states, industries, organizations, and government departments, the common themes that emerged throughout the day were calls more aggressive actions, stricter penalties, improved protection for whistle blowers, and better standards and enforcement.
As Workers’ Memorial Day gives us all an opportunity to renew our commitment to achieving safety in the workplace, we took a moment to reflect on how we can help. We’re proud to power the Zero Excuses campaign, an ongoing initiative to raise awareness for workplace hand safety and accident prevention. And this year we’ll continue to provide resources, tools, and advice to promote workplace safety through Zero Excuses. But our role extends beyond this campaign as well.
Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO president said it best: “No one providing a service to the community should risk his or her life due to lack of effective protective gear.” And that’s exactly where we can help. DSM Dyneema is invested in ongoing research and development so we can continue to innovate and deliver personal protective equipment—particularly cut-resistant gloves—that provides the absolute highest level of protection available to today’s workforce.