By Emily Gardner, Public Citizen
Each year, our nation observes Workers’ Memorial Week to mourn those individuals who have lost their lives on the job. It also serves as an important time to amplify and expand the fight for safe jobs for all working people. Annually in the U.S., about 4,800 people die on the job from injuries, an estimated 50,000 additional people die from occupational diseases, and about 3 million people are injured at work.
A recent Public Citizen report illustrates the devastating consequences of unsafe worksites for employees and their families in one particular sector – the construction industry. In one story covered in the report, a Brayman Construction employee was crushed under a 22,084-pound panel on August 22, 2007, just one day before his birthday. According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspection, after a very large metal panel was put into place by a crane, the employee “climbed the panel to release the crane from the load.” The metal panel should have been held up with rebar – allowing it to stay in place when it was released from the crane. Instead, the employee, and the metal form to which he was strapped, came crashing to the ground, killing him. The 47-year-old carpenter left behind a spouse and three children.
Preventable injuries at work also take their toll on workers. In the health care industry, nurses risk literally breaking their backs manually lifting and transferring patients in hospitals without proper safe patient handling equipment. Lynn Kieler’s employer restricted her lifting permissions after she suffered an injury due to lifting a patient. Because of the restrictions, the hospital reduced her hours to less than half of a regular full-time schedule. She later underwent surgery after an MRI revealed a tear in her rotator cuff. “The day of the surgery, I received a letter saying that I was fired for attendance problems,” Kieler told Public Citizen.
Despite these harrowing statistics and tragic stories, Trump’s first 100 days have been filled with broken promises to working families. Although he promised to “protect American workers,” Trump began his presidency by teaming up with Republicans in Congress to repeal commonsense worker safety protections. He is even threatening to cut funding for government programs that are critical for saving lives.
Working people deserve better. Now is the time for workplace safety advocates to hold the government accountable to the people. Keep up with events going on around the world to commemorate International Workers’ Memorial Day on April 28 by following the hashtag #IWMD17 on Twitter. Also, stay tuned to Citizen Vox this week for coverage on Republican attacks on workplace safety and ways to fight back.