On Safety

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Workers Memorial Day 2015

April 29, 2015
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To mark Workers Memorial Day (April 28), federal officials, union leaders and others remembered workers who have died on the job and called for increased efforts to make workplaces safer:

Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez reflected on the horrors of 2010, a single year that contained the Deepwater Horizon oil spill (11 workers killed), the Upper Big Branch mine explosion (29 killed), and the Tesoro refinery fire (7 killed).

“As we mark the five-year anniversaries of three tragedies ... we are reminded that while we have made great strides in worker safety, we must do more. ... We must make sure workers know their rights and employers know their responsibilities.”

– Thomas Perez, secretary of labor

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka stressed the need for employers taking better steps to protect their workers. Citing the recent Ebola outbreak, he praised the hundreds of health care workers who aided the ill, and pointed out that some of those workers became sick due to “subpar protections provided by employers.”

“No one providing a service to the community should risk his or her life due to lack of effective protective gear.”

– Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO president

Appropriate personal protective equipment is one of the challenges facing health care workers battling Ebola, NIOSH Director John Howard said. In addition to protecting workers from globally spread infectious diseases, Howard noted in a blog post that a wide variety of industries are facing several other new and emerging challenges.

“The workplace is ever-evolving, and in the 45 years since the [Occupational Safety and Health] Act was signed into law, the number of workers has doubled, globalization has increased rapidly, climate change entered our vernacular, and even the structure of work as we know it has changed. While the challenges we face today may have changed since 1970, the commitment we have to protecting the health and safety of workers remains steadfast.”

– John Howard, NIOSH director

But not every hazard is new. Pete Stafford, the executive director at the Center for Construction Research and Training, also known as CPWR, noted falls remain the leading cause of occupational deaths for construction workers. He called on employers to participate in a national Safety Stand-Down to prevent such deaths on construction sites.

“Between May 4 and May 15, contractors, unions, and government agencies across the nation will direct attention to this killer that claims the life of a construction worker somewhere in America nearly every working day. Will you join us?”

– Pete Stafford, CPWR executive director

A focused hazard prevention effort won’t by itself create safer workplaces, according to James P. Hoffa, the general president for the Teamsters union. He said some public-sector workers are without OSHA protections, weak whistleblower protection rules are on the books, and no ergonomic-specific standards exist to address one of the major sources of worker injuries.

“We need to join hands to seek stronger safety and health protections, and better standards and enforcement.”

– James P. Hoffa, Teamsters general president

Many more people had other insightful thoughts this Workers Memorial Day. See below to read what they had to say.

The opinions expressed in "On Safety" do not necessarily reflect those of the National Safety Council or affiliated local Chapters.

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