Remembering fallen workers: Workers’ Memorial Day

April 28th, 2010 by Julie Ferguson

Today is Workers’ Memorial Day, both a global and a national day to remember those who lost their lives on the job. April 28 has been an annual day of remembrance since 1989. It is the anniversary of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the day of a similar remembrance in Canada. Trade unionists around the world now mark April 28 as an International Day of Mourning.
Here in the US, in addition to remembering the more than 5,000 workers who die on the job each year, we face the fresh and painful large-scale tragedies of the 29 workers who lost their lives in the West Virginia Massey mine disaster, 7 workers killed at the Tesoro refinery explosion in Washington, 6 workers killed at the Kleen Energy Plant in Connecticut, and 11 workers missing and presumed dead from Transocean’s oil rig explosion off the coast of Louisiana.
These large-scale disasters were played out on a very public stage, with much media attention on the accidents, on the loss of life, and on the grief of the survivors. Less public but no less tragic and painful are the stories of the other 5,000+ deaths: 56-year old father of four James Wetzel, crushed to death in a collapsed trench that was not properly secured; a double fatality at the Kansas MagnaGro International Plant, in which 25-year old Iraq veteran Brandon Pierce and 51-year-old grandfather of four Roy Hillebert lost their lives in a vat of unspecified liquid or 32-year old mother Lori Keen who was killed after being struck by a pallet of bottled water in a Kroger store in Illinois. News reports often paint work-related deaths as freak accidents, but safety experts know that workplace freak accidents are a media myth – most entail preventable safety violations.
The AFL-CIO has amassed resources and information on Worker Memorial Day, including the release of its 19th annual report on the state of health and safety for U.S. workers: Death on the Job Report 2010: The Toll of Neglect. It’s worth reading and passing along. The best way that we can honor fallen workers is to pledge that we can and we will do better.

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