On April 28 each year, workers, their families, unions and workplace safety advocates across the globe come together to observe International Workers’ Memorial Day, an awareness day promoting worker safety and commemorating those who have died from their work. It is a day to “mourn for the dead and fight for the living.”
Today marks an important time to highlight two key facts: that most workplace fatalities are preventable, and that occupational safety should be paramount. Here’s a closer look at what the campaign is about and how you can support its mission.
About Workers’ Memorial Day
Sponsored by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), a federation of 55 labor unions, Workers’ Memorial Day fights for safe jobs worldwide. The day was established in 1970 to complement the federation’s efforts to improve the lives and treatment of workers.
In particular, the AFL-CIO works to reinforce and bring attention to workers’ rights across industries that involve manual labor and are considered more high-risk. These rights are governed by legislation such as the Occupational Safety and Health Act – which created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) – but are too often overlooked.
Within certain industries, workers are at risk of hazards such as excessive noise, unsanitary conditions, mechanical dangers and exposure to toxic substances. For example, asbestos exposure in occupations such as construction, firefighting and shipbuilding causes approximately 3,000 Americans per year to develop mesothelioma, a lethal cancer.
Sadly, people who suffer serious workplace injuries, illnesses and death often do so because of inadequate protection. Many companies have prioritized corporate interests over the health and wellbeing of their employees, covering up the truth about dangers that employees could be exposed to at work to protect profits.
Labor and trade unions, however, have fought hard to bring these cover-ups to light. In honor of the 6,000 workers killed at work every day, Workers’ Memorial Day strives for an end to a decades-long struggle of identifying workplace injustices and holding corporations accountable.
How to Support This Important Cause
The AFL-CIO has already been hugely successful in making jobs safer and preventing millions of workplace injuries and deaths. Still, this is an ongoing problem that continues to affect millions more each year. Now, especially, with President Donald Trump moving to overturn safeguards and enforcements the Obama administration issued to protect workers, prompt action is needed. To fight back, the federation is imploring as many people as possible to get involved.
There are many ways to participate – starting with attending or hosting an event in your area. In past years, communities have organized candlelight vigils, memorial services, rallies to call for stronger workplace protection, public meetings with members of Congress and workshops to educate workers about their rights and how to exercise them.
To maximize the impact of your event, invite the press to attend. This will give the message more exposure and encourage people to reflect on their responsibilities as workers and employers.
Ultimately, we can all do our part to call for practical action, fight for change and give workers and their families a better and more secure future. To get more information about workplace issues, you can explore AFL-CIO’s useful resources – including downloadable posters, fact sheets and report data – on its website.