Today workers and their families gather across the country to remember and honor colleagues who were injured or killed on the job site last year. While we have made many improvements since workplace tragedies like the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, research tells us more still needs to be done in order to protect the health and safety of America’s workers.
In 2009 alone, 4,340 workers were killed on the job – an average of 12 workers every day– and an estimated 50,000 died from occupational diseases. Sadly, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Between 8 and 12 million job-related illnesses and injuries occur each year, according to the AFL-CIO’s most recent report. And these workplace injuries add up- debilitating injuries and deaths cost the nation an estimated $159 billion to $318 billion a year.
But it’s not just about money. Workers should expect that when they leave for work each day they will come home unharmed. Even 40 years after the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, tragedies like the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion, the Kleen Energy Plant explosion, and the BP Gulf Coast oil rig disaster prove we have a long way to go to reach that goal. Workplace catastrophes like these serve as a reminder that safety must always be a top priority in our offices, construction sites, and factories.
While we aspire for a day when no worker’s death or injury is job-related, the right of workers to form unions and collectively bargain serves as an important avenue for improving workplace safety today. Through collective bargaining workers have a voice on the job and the ability to call attention to workplace hazards, without worrying that management will ignore them. And when life and limb are at stake, that’s a guarantee that every worker should have.
Photo courtesy of Greater Syracuse Labor Council.