Workers Memorial DayThis Saturday, April 28 is Workers Memorial Day 2018 and union leaders, politicians and activists across the country are weighing in on the importance of workplace safety and health.

Death on the Job

First, the AFL-CIO has released its 27th edition of its annual Death on the Job report, and it once again it provides just about every piece of workplace safety and health information anyone would ever want to know.  Download it, read it and keep it close: it is the bible of what’s happening in workplace safety and health in this country. It’s the most valuable tool you will find to fight the lies and myths that are being used to undermine worker safety in this country.

The good news: “More than 579,000 workers now can say their lives have been saved since the passage of the OSH Act.”  The bad news:

Too many workers remain at serious risk of injury, illness or death as chemical plant explosions, major fires, construction collapses and other preventable workplace tragedies continue to occur. Workplace violence is a growing threat. Many other workplace hazards kill and disable thousands of workers each year.

We deserve to walk out the front door in the morning knowing we’ll return home safe and healthy after a full day’s work.” –AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka

We know the basic facts:

  • 5,190 workers lost their lives on the job as a result of traumatic injuries in 2016 — 14 workers every day.
  • 50,000–60,000 die of chronic occupational diseases every year, most are not detected for years after workers are exposed to toxic chemicals, and occupational illnesses often are misdiagnosed and poorly tracked.
  • All total, on average at least 150 workers die each day due to job injuries and illnesses.
  • Nearly 3.7 million workers across all industries, including state and local government, suffered work-related injuries and illnesses in 2016. This number understates the problem because these are injuries reported by employers and underreporting of workplace injuries remains a chronic problem. The true toll is estimated to be two to three times greater—or 7.4 million to 11.1 million injuries and illnesses a year.
  • The cost of these injuries and illnesses is enormous—estimated at $250 billion to $360 billion a year.

Meanwhile, while the Obama administration increased the job safety budget, stepped up enforcement, strengthened workers’ rights and issued landmark regulations to protect workers from deadly silica dust and coal dust along with long-overdue standards for beryllium and confined space entry in the construction industry. President Trump’s , on the other hand,  has moved to “weaken recently issued rules on beryllium and mine examinations and has delayed or abandoned the development of new protections, including regulations on workplace violence, infectious diseases, silica in mining and combustible dust.” And Congress is trying to pass legislation that would make it impossible for OSHA to adopt future worker protections.

“We deserve to walk out the front door in the morning knowing we’ll return home safe and healthy after a full day’s work,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka (UMWA). “It’s a travesty that working people continue to lose their lives to corporate greed. The selfish and reckless decisions being made in boardrooms and in Washington are killing the very people who built this country. This is officially a national crisis, and it’s only getting worse.”

The Dirty Dozen

National COSH has announced its annual “Dirty Dozen 2018” report on “Employers Who Put Workers and Communities at Risk.” Who were they?

  • Amazon: Seven workers killed at Amazon warehouses since 2013
  • Case Farms: 74 OSHA violations per 1,000 employees – more than four times higher than any other poultry firm.
  • Dine Brands Global (IHOP and Applebee’s): Demands for sex, groping, threats of violence against workers. More than 60 complaints about sexual and harassment and abuse.
  • JK Excavating: 25-year old Zachary Hess buried alive in December 2017
  • Lowe’s Home: 56 U.S. deaths linked to exposure to paint strippers containing methylene chloride (which Lowes still sells), including 17 workers who died while refinishing bathtubs.
  • Lynnway Auto Auction: Five dead in preventable auto crash – including a 37-year old mom working her first day on the job.
  • New York and Atlantic Railway: Workers suffer amputation, brain injury, and impaired vision. Immigrants workers face workplace discrimination;
  • Patterson UTI Energy: Five workers dead in an explosion in Quinton, Oklahoma. 110 OSHA violations and 13 workers dead in the past decade
  • Sarbanand Farms:  Farm worker dies after complaining of headaches. 70 co-workers go on strike to protest unsafe conditions and then fired and evicted from company
  • Tesla Motors: Recordable injuries 31% higher than industry average; serious injuries 83% higher.
  • Verla Internationa: Explosion kills a worker at cosmetics plan.  125 workers injured, eight firefighters hospitalized.
  • Waste Management: 23-Year old worker killed at a recycling facility because company failed to lockout/tagout machinery during repairs.

I have linked to articles I’ve written about some of these companies, but check out the full report for much more information.

USW’s Gerard on Workplace Violence

United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard has penned an important article about the hazards of workplace violence against health care workers and the need to “fight like hell for a federal safety standard to ensure that more of them return home after a day’s work without broken bones, bruises, bite marks or gunshot wounds.” Gerard, whose union represents 50,000 health care workers describes a series of attacks on health care workers and calls for national standards to protect health care and social service workers.

April,  The Most Dangerous Month: Influence From the Grave

April is a good time to commemorate Workers Memorial Day because it may be the most dangerous month for workers.  The Upper Big Branch mine disaster, the West Fertilizer, Deepwater Horizon, the L’Ambiance Plaza building collapse that killed 28 construction workers on April 25, 1987 and the Willow Island cooling tower collapse that killed 51 workers on April 27, 1978

But not just in the United States. April 24 was also the anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse, where an eight-story building collapsed, killing 1,134 workers in what was one of the worst industrial accidents in world history. Former NY Times Labor Reporter Steve Greenhouse writes that while progress has been made, there’s still a long way to go for workers in underdeveloped countries:

But after the Rana Plaza disaster, and pushed by human rights groups, labor unions and consumers, H&M, Benetton and more than 200 other retailers and apparel brands finally created an unusually ambitious effort — known as the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh — that has gone far to ensure safety in the 1,621 factories they use in Bangladesh.
Unfortunately, while safety has improved in Bangladesh, far too many problems remain in that country’s — and the world’s — garment industry. More than 1,000 Bangladeshi apparel factories are not covered by these stepped-up safety measures because the brands that use those factories have not signed on to the accord’s ambitious effort.
Nor, sad to say, does the accord and its rigorous safety measures cover other countries that manufacture clothing for Americans and Europeans — Cambodia, India, Vietnam, and Pakistan.
One of the main principles of the Accord is worker participation, which Bangladesh doesn’t take kindly to:
Bangladesh’s government and companies often don’t look kindly on workers’ freedom of association. In December 2016, when thousands of workers protested for higher pay, Bangladesh authorities arrested 14 labor activists, and factories suspended or fired 1,500 workers. Some factory owners dispatch thugs to beat up union leaders, and one factory posted threatening placards showing a doctored photo of a union leader, Chandon Kumar Dey, with a noose around his neck.
Greenhouse’s conclusion is sad, but too true: “Tragically, it’s only after the huge disasters like the Triangle fire and Rana Plaza that companies get serious about safety. It too often seems that workers have more influence from the grave than when they’re alive.”
One thought on “Approaching Workers Memorial Day”

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