May 9, 2013
By Kris LaGrange
Every day, 13 Americans arrive at work and never leave.
They die in workplace accidents, over 4,700 in the past year, and most of these deaths could be avoided if employers and employees followed guidelines set forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Act, signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1971.
Nixon had good reason to act: In 1970, 14,000 American workers clocked in and never went home. Almost 10,000 lives a year are being saved as a result of the legislation.
Organized labor celebrates this improvement every April 28 as Worker’s Memorial Day. On this date, slogans like “Safe Jobs, Good Jobs” and “Mourn for the Dead, Fight for the Living” blanket union-hall walls around the country, and union members commemorate in ceremonies at worker memorials, candle-lightings and some well-attended religious services.
Construction and utility workers have filled the pews for the past seven years at Roman Catholic parishes across the region, adding an interesting dynamic to the safe-workplace phenomenon.
At this year’s Worker’s Memorial Mass at St. Patrick’s Church in Bay Shore, George Bloom of the 10,000-member Communications Workers of America Local 1104 told me that attending the Mass reinforces a most basic belief – that providing a safe workplace is the absolute least any employer can do.
“Saying a prayer for the families who lost a loved one is comforting,” George told me. “Going to church may just be a once-a-year thing for some, but the union leadership is reminded that fighting daily for a safe workplace is the most important thing you can do.”
He may be right. But the responsibility must be shared by both employers and employees. Another coined slogan associated with this day is one of my favor-ites: “Worker Safety is Everyone’s Business.
” When employees gripe about pay and benefits, the bargaining table is the best place to hold that discussion. But when the topic is workplace safety, the only meaningful action is to correct problems immediately and ensure standards set forth by OSHA.
Worker’s Memorial Masses are lovely. But the best thing we could do is drive down attendance. LaGrange is host of UCOMM Radio and the head of UCOMM Communications, a labor-focused comunications firm.