By Olivia Sandbothe, AFSCME
We go to work every day to make a living — but all too often, the workplace takes lives instead. Today is Workers Memorial Day, a time to reflect on the working women and men who were killed or injured on the job.
Thanks to the efforts of advocates and activists in the labor movement, workplace safety has improved considerably in recent decades. We lobbied for laws and negotiated collectively for contracts that require protective equipment and thorough safety procedures. But the battle isn’t over.
In 2014, the most recent year for available statistics, more than 4,800 working people died as the result of workplace accidents and injuries, and another 50,000 died from diseases caused by workplace exposure. That’s 150 lives lost every day as the result of unsafe working conditions. (This is the highest annual total since 2008.)
Some workers are at higher risk than others. Latino workers, particularly those who were born outside the United States, are more likely to be injured or killed on the job than the general population. In 2014, 748 Latino workers died as the result of workplace injury.
As public sector employees, AFSCME members are also at particular risk. Federal OSHA standards do not cover many state and local government workers, and public sector employees are 56 percent more likely to be injured on the job than our private-sector counterparts. Although some states have state OSHA laws that protect public sector workers.
It’s up to all of us to make sure our workplaces are safe and healthy. We need strong contracts, comprehensive laws and co-workers who are willing to speak up when they see potential dangers. Let’s put an end to these preventable tragedies.