Annually on April 28, the United States Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) honors Workers Memorial Day. On this day of nobility, we remember and honor those who have lost their lives on the job.
A number of these crippling losses were possibly preventable if the proper safety standards were followed, appropriate controls existed, and if safety and health programs were a priority.
This year, the department also pays attention to OSHA’s 50th anniversary. Prior to the enactment of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1971, and the creation of OSHA, many workers had an insufficient amount of basic protections from common workplace hazards.
Now, OSHA and other partners have worked deliberately to help transform US workplaces. So far, they have helped reduce injuries, illnesses, and fatalities remarkably.
“Workers Memorial Day reminds us of the sacrifices many workers make to earn their wages and provide for themselves and their families,” Secretary of Labor, Marty Walsh said.
“No one should ever have to lose their life, suffer a disabling injury or develop a life-altering illness because they went to work. The dedicated professionals at the U.S. Department of Labor are determined to ensure that U.S. workers finish their workdays safely and hold those accountable whose neglect increases the likelihood of harm to our fellow citizens.”
In spite of OSHA’s fifty years of progress, over 5,000 people suffer fatal injuries at work, yearly. Thousands more are either hurt or sickened. The recent pandemic has emphasized一more than any time in its history一 the necessary importance of OSHA’s mission.
Thus far, the pandemic has killed up to 570,000 people, many of them being essential front line workers, a plethora of people of color, and immigrants amidst them, whose work succored a nation in desperation.
In response to the devastation, President Biden accommodated an executive order that administered the Department of Labor to think of whether any emergency temporary standards were necessary to keep workers safe from the health hazard created due to COVID-19.
On April 26, OSHA sent draft standards to the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs for review after working with its science-agency partners, economic agencies, and others in the US government to get the proposed emergency standard right.
“In its 50-year history, OSHA has been at the forefront of many positive changes in workplace safety, but the pandemic made it clear – there remains much room for improvement and much more work to do,” Jim Frederick, Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, said.
“We intend to honor those workers who risked and lost their lives in the pandemic – and those they leave behind – by making America’s workplaces the safest and healthiest they can be.”
With $100 million in additional funding in the American Rescue Plan of 2021, OSHA is striving to protect workers now and in the future. This consists of ensuring that OSHA has the resources, such as much-needed staff, to do the agency’s work.
The agency is planning to hire more than 160 new critical crew, including compliance safety and health officers to respond to the pandemic. OSHA will also make available an additional $10 million in funds for Susan Harwood Training grants to support organizations delivering vital training to prevent vulnerable workers from exposure to the coronavirus and infectious disease.
The department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration is also coming up with efforts to protect workers at the nation’s thousands of mines. This includes hiring dozens of inspectors and specialists to participating critical geographical areas.
Increasing staff will substantially enable the agency to direct more needed enforcement efforts to targeted safety and health hazards, as well as to provide more compliance assistance to special emphasis programs, including coronavirus.
“Today we’re honoring the 29 miners who lost their lives on the job in 2020 and recognizing the devastating impact of their absence for their families and communities,” Jeannette Galanis, Acting Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health, said.
“More importantly, we’re recommitting to creating safe and healthful workplaces where miners and their families can trust that a day’s work will end with them heading home, safe and healthy.”
OSHA has recently launched a new Workers Memorial Page that aims to lift the voices of workers who have lost their lives on the job. A virtual Workers Memorial Wall features names and images of workers as a solemn tribute for workers’ families, friends, and coworkers.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees.
OSHA’s role is to help ensure these conditions for America’s workers by setting and enforcing standards and providing training, education, and assistance.