Worldwide Ceremonies Honor Lost Workers
Unions and safety organizations around the world are marking Workers Memorial Day 2011 on April 28.
Around the world, from Australia to North America and Europe, trade unions and safety organizations are pausing on April 28 to remember workers who have died. Those ceremonies are particularly appropriate this year -- a decade since the 9/11 attacks killed thousands of World Trade Center workers and 40 years after the OSH Act took effect on April 28, 1971.
The International Labour Organization's director-general, Juan Somavia, released a statement highlighting the benefits of occupational safety and health management systems as a tool to secure continual improvement. "Successfully building a strong preventative safety and health culture will depend on strong commitment, collaboration and concerted action by governments, employers and workers and all stakeholders – it cannot be the sole preserve of experts," he said. "Effective strategies must, for example, embrace the training of workers.... Experience of recent years shows that established prevention measures are effective in reducing traditional hazards and risks. However, many dangers persist or new ones have emerged. New technologies and new forms of work organization bring new challenges. Risks associated with chemicals and bio-technologies are on the rise. So too are psychosocial risks as workers deal with the pressures of modern working life, exacerbated in times of economic crisis. This complex situation has an adverse impact on human lives, healthcare costs and on economic performance. Occupational safety and health must be integral components of strategies for productive employment and decent work. It will involve striking the right balance between voluntary and mandatory approaches reflecting local needs and practice. But above all, occupational safety and health must become a reflex of all."
OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels said April 21 that a tree is being planted this week on the grounds of the Labor Department's Frances Perkins Building in Washington, D.C. "The tree will be a permanent reminder of those workers we have lost, and it will serve as a call to action: that we must commit ourselves to address the many challenges still facing us today, to rededicate ourselves to the original promise of the Occupational Safety and Health Act — to ensure that all workers in the United States come home safely to their families after a day's work," Michaels said. "The spirits of those who died and those who lived to fight for better conditions urge us to meet these challenges and achieve the goals that all Americans strive for: Healthier Workers, Safer Workplaces, and a Stronger America."
UNISON, the largest public-sector union in Britain, and the Trades Union Congress are celebrating Workers Memorial Day with events across the country. Safework SA, South Australia's OHS regulatory agency, is holding an ecumenical service in Adelaide. The AFL-CIO and many of its individual unions have memorial services and other activities scheduled. Cliff Guffey, president of the 220,000-member American Postal Workers Union, APWU, says more than 4,000 American workers dying on the job each year and thousands more suffering injuries or illnesses mean much more must be done to improve safety. "Unregulated and uncontrolled job hazards put workers in serious danger and cost lives," Guffey said. "We must continue the fight to ensure every worker has the right to a safe job."