More rigorous enforcement of federal workplace safety rules is needed if OSHA is to do its job properly, a New Hampshire worker safety group said Wednesday during a Workers Memorial Day ceremony held in Concord, the state capital, according to the New Hampshire Union Leader.

Last year in New Hampshire, 21 workers died as a result of workplace accidents and another 50,000 were injured on the job, the New Hampshire Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health reported. The names of those who died were read and a brief prayer was said before speakers urged the adoption of a bill in Congress that would stiffen penalties for companies that violate OSHA rules.

A bill unveiled this week by U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy would make it a felony punishable by up to 10 years in jail if a worker dies due to an employer’s willful safety violation.

Currently, federal law classifies these cases as misdemeanors punishable by a maximum jail term of six months, according to coalition board member Corinne Stahr.

“Ordering workers to go into unsafe conditions is the same as pointing a gun at them; companies that hurt workers should be punished,” Stahr said.

Another coalition board member, Dennis Martino, said that OSHA needs more enforcement muscle to do its job properly.

“Development of new rules by OSHA has stopped dead in its tracks; heavily bankrolled corporate pressure groups prevent OSHA from enacting meaningful new safety regulations,” Martino said.

Held every April 28, Workers Memorial Day commemorates the anniversary of the federal Occupational Safety & Health Act passed in 1971 and honors those who have died as a result of a workplace injury. The New Hampshire ceremony was one of hundreds of events held around the nation to mark the 15th annual event.