Friday, April 29, 2011

Workers Memorial Day

Startling statistics:
This year is historic for workers’ safety and health. It is the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, where 146 workers—most of them young immigrant women—were killed, trapped behind locked doors with no way to escape. This year is also the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the right of workers to safe jobs.

Since 1970, when the Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed, workplace safety and health conditions have improved. But too many workers remain at serious risk of injury, illness or death, as demonstrated by the series of major workplace tragedies that occurred this past year: a horrific explosion at the Massey Energy Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia that killed 29 coal miners—the worst coal mine disaster in 40 years; an explosion at the Kleen Energy Plant in Middletown, Conn., that killed six workers and another at the Tesoro Refinery in Washington State that killed seven workers; and the BP/Transocean Gulf Coast oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers and caused a massive environmental and economic disaster.

In 2009, according to preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4,340 workers were killed on the job—an average of 12 workers every day—and an estimated 50,000 died from occupational diseases. More than 4.1 million work-related injuries and illnesses were reported, but this number understates the problem. The true toll of job injuries is two to three times greater—about 8 million to12 million job injuries and illnesses each year.
Often lost in the right's assault against organized labor is the importance that unions play in creating and enforcing a safe workplace. No one should have to risk their lives trying to make a living, organized workplaces help make that possible.

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