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Workers Memorial Day: Mourn for the Dead, Fight for the Living

April 28, 2010

Workers Memorial Day

The tragic deaths of 29 miners in Raleigh County, W.Va earlier this month serve as a sad reminder that American workers in many occupations — including first responders, highway workers and public safety officers — continue to lose their lives, risk injury or become ill as a result of unhealthy or dangerous workplaces.

The miners’ deaths are a sobering reminder of the importance of workplace safety regulations. On this Workers Memorial Day, we should take a moment to honor these women and men, and re-dedicate ourselves to the achievable goal of safe and healthy workplaces.

Workers Memorial Day was first observed in 1989. April 28 was chosen because it is the anniversary of the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in 1970. While there have been improvements since then, disasters like the gas explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine force us to recognize that there’s much more to do. Injuries and deaths can be prevented when safety is a higher priority than profits.

AFSCME continues to lead the fight for workplace safety. In Kentucky, for instance, state employees who are members of Council 62 are lobbying the Legislature to fully fund the “Boni Bill,” named for a social service aide who was killed in 2006 during a home visit. The law, intended to hire more social workers and increase security, was passed in 2007 but has not been adequately funded.

AFSCME also offers resources such as our pamphlet, Safe Jobs Now: A Guide to Health and Safety in the Workplace, which can be read online. Also, check out AFSCME’s guidebook on preventing workplace violence and other health and safety publications.

Learn about workplace safety in the 2010 edition of the AFL-CIO's Death on the Job or download the complete 2010 report (PDF). The report shows that there were a total of 5,214 fatal workplace injuries in 2008 — and because workplace-related injuries and illnesses are persistently underreported, the real toll is estimated to be as many as three times the 4.6 million reported incidents.

Also, urge your lawmakers to co-sponsor the Protecting America's Workers Act (S. 1580 and H.R. 2067), which expands OSHA coverage to federal, state and local government employees, increases OSHA civil and criminal penalties for job safety violations and improves whistleblower protection for employees who report unsafe working conditions.

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