|Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons|
It would come as no surprise if you were unaware that April 28 is Workers’ Memorial Day. We do not get the day off work or school. Banks do not close. Government does not shut down. The media do not even mention it.
However, it might come as a surprise that a dozen or so U.S. workers die on the job each day, given the common belief that the country is the wealthiest and greatest in the world. After all, don’t we have modern medicine, safety devices on our machines, effective training and mandatory breaks for those who operate dangerous machinery?
While American workers are responsible for the vast wealth accumulated by the richest CEO’s, bankers and industrialists, their lives and wellbeing are hardly valued at all. They are easily replaced by the millions of unemployed and underemployed. Slowing down production to a safe speed, installing safety features, and properly training employees all cut into profits and are far more expensive than a bouquet and a condolence check.
Working to Live, Not Dying to Work
Legislators routinely mischaracterize safety regulations as “job killers.” However, weak safety regulations are, in reality, people killers. In 1970, the year that the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) was passed, there were more than 14,000 deaths on the job nationally. By 2010, the number of occupational deaths was down to 4,574, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Despite this progress, there are still too many deaths occurring on the job and job deaths are increasing in some regions. The Sacramento Bee notes that workplace fatalities increased by roughly 25% in Pennsylvania between 2009 and 2010, despite a decline in the number of people actually working. There have also been many notable preventable workplace fatalities recently, like the Deep Water Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, which killed 11 workers, and the Massey Upper Big Branch coal mine explosion, which killed 29 workers.
It is also worth noting that close to 3 million workers are injured or made sick at work each year.
No one should have to die or suffer serious injuries just to put food on the table.