Every year on April 28, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) commemorate Workers Memorial Day. Also known as the International Day of Mourning, this is the day we remember and honor the men and women who have lost their lives on the job. Many of these devastating losses were preventable if standards had been followed, appropriate controls existed and if safety and health programs were a priority.
In 2021, the DOL also observes OSHA’s 50th anniversary. Before the 1971 enactment of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and the creation of OSHA, many U.S. workers lacked basic protections from workplace hazards. Since then, OSHA and its many partners have helped transform U.S. workplaces and have reduced injuries, illnesses and fatalities significantly.
“Workers Memorial Day reminds us of the sacrifices many workers make to earn their wages and provide for themselves and their families,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh. “No one should ever have to lose their life, suffer a disabling injury or develop a life-altering illness because they went to work. The dedicated professionals at the U.S. Department of Labor are determined to ensure that U.S. workers finish their workdays safely and hold those accountable whose neglect increases the likelihood of harm to our fellow citizens.”
The Impact of the Pandemic on Frontline Workers
Despite OSHA’s half-century of progress, more than 5,000 people suffer fatal injuries at work each year, and thousands more are hurt or sickened. The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted – perhaps more than in any time in its history – the vital importance of OSHA’s mission. To date, the pandemic has killed more than 570,000 people, many of them essential frontline workers, many people of color and immigrants among them, whose work served a nation in desperate need.
In response to the devastation, U.S. President Joe Biden issued an executive order that directed the Department of Labor to consider whether any emergency temporary standards were necessary to keep workers safe from the hazard created by COVID-19. On Monday, April 26, OSHA sent draft standards to the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs for review after working with its science-agency partners, economic agencies and others in the U.S. government to get the proposed emergency standard right.
“In its 50-year history, OSHA has been at the forefront of many positive changes in workplace safety, but the pandemic made it clear – there remains much room for improvement and much more work to do,” said Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Jim Frederick. “We intend to honor those workers who risked and lost their lives in the pandemic – and those they leave behind – by making America’s workplaces the safest and healthiest they can be.”
Additional Funding Requested for OSHA in the American Rescue Plan
With $100 million in additional funding in the American Rescue Plan of 2021, OSHA is working to protect workers now and in the future. This includes ensuring that OSHA has the resources, such as much-needed staff, to do the agency’s work.
The agency is planning to hire more than 160 new critical personnel, including compliance safety and health officers, to respond to the pandemic. OSHA will also make available an additional $10 million in funds for Susan Harwood Training grants to support organizations delivering vital training to prevent vulnerable workers from exposure to the coronavirus and infectious disease.
MSHA Ramps Up Health and Safety Efforts
The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration is also ramping up efforts to protect workers at the nation’s thousands of mines by hiring dozens of inspectors and specialists to serve critical geographic areas. Increasing staff will enable the agency to direct more needed enforcement efforts to targeted safety and health hazards, as well as to provide more compliance assistance to special emphasis programs, including coronavirus.
“Today, we’re honoring the 29 miners who lost their lives on the job in 2020, and recognizing the devastating impact of their absence for their families and communities,” said Acting Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Jeannette Galanis. “More importantly, we’re recommitting to creating safe and healthful workplaces where miners and their families can trust that a day’s work will end with them heading home, safe and healthy.”
OSHA also launched a new Workers Memorial Page that aims to lift up the voices of workers who lost their lives on the job. A virtual Workers Memorial Wall features names and images of workers as a solemn tribute for workers’ families, friends and coworkers.
Canada Recognizes the National Day of Mourning
Canada recognizes the National Day of Mourning on April 28, with the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety declaring it “not only a day to remember and honor those lives lost or injured due to a workplace tragedy, but also a day to collectively renew our commitment to improve health and safety in the workplace and prevent further injuries, illnesses and deaths.”
“One death is one too many. It’s for this reason we look to strengthening our resolve to create safe workplaces and protect workers,” said Anne Tennier, president and CEO, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS).
Traditionally on April 28th, the Canadian flag has flown at half-mast on Parliament Hill and on all federal government buildings. Employers and workers have observed Day of Mourning in a variety of ways over the years. Some have lit candles, laid wreaths, worn commemorative pins, ribbons or black armbands, and paused for a moment of silence.
The most recent statistics from the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada (AWCBC) indicate that in 2019, 925 workplace fatalities were recorded in Canada. Male workers accounted for 882 deaths, and 43 were female workers. Among these deaths were 29 young workers, aged 15-24.
Add to these fatalities the 271,806 accepted claims for lost time due to a work-related injury or disease, including 33,615 from workers aged 15-24, and the fact that these statistics only include what is reported and accepted by the compensation boards, there is no doubt that the total number of workers impacted is even greater.
“Behind every workplace death and injury are family members, friends, co-workers and loved ones whose lives are deeply impacted and changed forever,” said Tennier.
Intelex Recognizes the Significance of Workers Memorial Day
At a recent All-Hands Meeting at Intelex, President Justin McElhattan addressed the importance of worker safety and health and the significance of Workers Memorial Day. “[There are] people dying from work, whether they’re getting killed in accidents or as a result of work-related exposure or disease,” said McElhattan.
He reminded the Intelex team that “All of the work we do here at Intelex is driven and ultimately has the outcome – whether it’s environmental, health, safety or quality – in making workplaces safer for those at work and in making the communities around them safer and healthier.”
Please visit our LinkedIn page to see our infographic, National Day of Mourning.