The rate of workplace injuries and deaths in the United States is atrocious and getting worse. On average 275 workers in this country lose their lives daily from hazardous working conditions. Last year, 5,333 workers were killed on the job and another 95,000 died from occupational diseases.
The hazards of work were magnified by COVID-19; essential workers and healthcare workers have suffered death and illness because of their dedication to serving the public. Often, their employers have not protected them adequately.
Employers reported 3.5 million work-related deaths, injuries and diseases in 2021, a figure likely to be actually 7 to 10 million but unreported. According to the Strategic Organizing Center, Amazon alone accounted for 34,000 serious injuries in its warehouse, despite its claim to be “Earth’s Safest place to Work.”
On April 28, 2022, Workers’ Memorial Day will be observed. More than thoughts and prayers are needed to reverse the trend of increasing workplace-related safety and health problems and incidents. Too often the onus for safety is laid entirely on workers while employers responsible for unsafe conditions get by unnoticed or minimally penalized when brought to account.
Obviously safety and health concerns should have the attention of workers but only when they have a voice in the workplace through a union can they force their employer to attention, too. One reason that Amazon and other anti-union, anti-worker companies oppose the right to organize is precisely because they would be compelled to accept their responsibility for making work safer.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 was signed into law on April 28th of that year by President Richard Nixon. It addressed the grievous working conditions that were harming far fewer American workers then than now and placed the new agency within the Department of Labor. The anniversary of that signing is now Workers’ Memorial Day.
OSHA has accomplished many improvements in the workplace despite political and corporate opposition on far too many occasions. The Labor Movement has stood by OSHA, helped to guide it and augmented its work. The time when a Workers’ Memorial Day will no longer be needed to pay tribute victims of the workplace remains distant.
The work of making work safe must remain a pressing concern.