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The story in the evening newscast is as blunt as it is brief: “local man killed during workplace fall”, or “worker crushed by machine.” The familiar images of “yet another tragic accident at work” call us urgently to action, but they then dissolve smoothly into the next news item.
April 28, on Workers Memorial Day, we focus on much more than the headlines. We remember those killed on the job, recognize the tremendous pain left behind by the loss of their lives, and we recommit ourselves to ensuring that future tragedies are prevented.
This may not be an annual observance familiar to most Americans, but with a series of dramatic workplace tragedies this month, it is an especially important day.
Just last week, a miner was killed on the job at the Pocahontas Mine in West Virginia, a subway worker was electrocuted in New York, and a driller was killed while working on a gas well drilling site in Sycamore, Pennsylvania. Add 29 miners killed at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, the 11 presumed dead in the oil rig explosion south of Louisiana, and the 7 deaths in a refinery fire in Washington State – all in the month of April.
Each day 14 workers die in our country. That means more than 5,000 people are killed on the job each year. And, more than 4.6 million are seriously injured. Thousands of families are impacted by the wounding or loss of a husband, wife, father, mother, brother, sister, son or daughter. And most – if not all of these – are injuries and fatalities that could have been easily prevented.
Today the mission of the Department of Labor as a worker protection agency is more clear and needed than ever. With a renewed emphasis on protecting workers and businesses that play by the rules, our goal is simple: Save Lives. Our tools are enhanced enforcement, a forward looking and progressive regulatory agenda, expanded outreach, and a relentless commitment to enforce existing laws.
But, even more must be done. In addition to stepping up our own game, we are committed to working with Congress to modernize and strengthen the very laws that protect worker safety in all of our nation’s workplaces.
Some argue that workplace health and safety inspections, enforcement, and regulations are "inconvenient and intrusive." My reply: No paycheck is worth a life, and no quest for profit should ever be allowed to circumvent our law. So wherever workers are in danger, the Department of Labor will act decisively.
More than 80 years ago, a feisty old woman named Mary Harris “Mother” Jones rallied and raised hell of behalf of miners killed in Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia. Her motto: Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living.
There is not a more fitting way to honor fallen workers than to end injustices in the workplace, fight for stronger job safety laws and protections for all workers.