This year’s Workers Memorial Day, April 28, will be a little different. In addition to speeches and candlelit ceremonies, processions and pancake breakfasts, there’ll be activism – motivated by what advocates say is the Trump administration’s attacks on workplace safety.
Workers’ Memorial Day is a worldwide remembrance to honor workers who have died on the job.
Through a campaign called, “Protecting Workers’ Lives and Limbs,” activists will visit Congressional offices in ten states in the weeks leading up to Workers Memorial Day, to push for better safety practices in U.S. workplaces.
“Communicating now to elected officials is urgent, given already-implemented federal cuts to workplace health and safety,” said Charlene Obernauer, Executive Director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH), the group coordinating the Protecting Workers’ Lives and Limbs campaign.
“Recent Congressional actions have put workers at risk by taking steps to eliminate sanctions against federal contractors who violate safety laws and reverse longstanding recordkeeping rules.” (Congress last week struck down the so-called “Volks rule” portion of OSHA’s recordkeeping regulation, reducing the length of time that employers in high hazard industries must keep injury records from five years to six months.)
Obernauer also pointed to deregulation and Trump’s federal hiring freeze as evidence that “the safety and health of the American workforce is being attacked at multiple angles.”
At present, OSHA has approximately 2,000 inspectors to cover more than 7 million worksites. Additionally, the fines the agency is allowed to use to deter violators are smaller than those used by the EPA to punish polluters, and are frequently negotiated downward.
Just what those inspectors are and will be doing going forward is unclear; since inauguration day, Jan. 20, OSHA has stopped releasing information on what if any, enforcement activities it is conducting. Additionally, the status of standards like those limiting beryllium and silica exposures is in doubt. The beryllium standard’s effective date has been delayed to May 20, 2017, so that OSHA has “an opportunity for further review and consideration of the rule” – according to the agency, while labor secretary nominee Alexander Acosta refused to commit to enforcing the silica rule during recent Senate hearings.
The 92 organizations endorsing “Protecting Workers’ Lives and Limbs” represent workers, unions, environmentalists and civic groups.
Key elements of the platform include: ensuring health and safety protections for all workers, reducing and working to eliminate the use of toxic chemicals, ensuring injured workers access to quality medical care, accurate counting of all occupational injuries and illnesses, and measures to adapt to–and reduce–further climate change.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, (BLS), 236 workers died on the job from occupational fatalities in New York in 2015. Nationwide, the death toll from occupational fatalities is more than 4,500 workers every year, and an estimated 95,000 U.S. workers die from long-term occupational illnesses. Millions more are injured after exposure to preventable safety hazards. The cost to U.S. employers for workers’ compensation alone was $91.8 billion in 2014, representing a fraction of the total cost of workplace deaths injuries and illnesses.
OSHA usually provides information on Workers’ Memorial Day activities across the nation but currently – one month out from the annual event – that web page only has “Please check back for updates” on it.