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K-State Today

May 17, 2011

Workers Memorial Day

Submitted by Steven Galitzer

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration marked its 40th year on April 28. Since its inception via the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1971, OSHA has passed many much-needed laws to protect workers, helping reduce injuries and fatalities on the job.

Looking back on its history, OSHA put together a video that charts our nation’s progress in occupational safety and health protection. The video is part of the “OSHA at 40” website, which also includes an interactive timeline of OSHA’s history and a special message from OSHA Administrator Dr. David Michaels. He remarked that American workplaces today are “far safer than forty years ago,” but reiterated OSHA’s continuing commitment to workplace safety.

April 28 was also Workers Memorial Day, which honors the men and women who have lost their lives on the job. In a proclamation, President Obama asked the nation to take part in the ceremonies, saying that on this occasion, “we reflect on the vital achievements of the past and recommit to keeping all workers safe and healthy in the future. We owe nothing less to the countless working Americans who have built and shaped our nation, and to those who have lost their lives or been injured on the job.”

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) issued “Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect,” a report that documents workplace safety on a state and national level. You can access this report here.

The 2011 issue is the 20th edition of the AFL-CIO’s report. Key findings include:

  • There are about 8-12 million job injuries and illnesses each year, about two to three times greater than preliminary data reported from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2009.
  • Injuries and illnesses cost $159-318 billion a year (direct and indirect costs) .
  • There is a lack of workplace inspectors with only 2,218 inspectors for 8 million workplaces.
  • Monetary penalties are too low to deter safety violations.
  • Weak criminal penalties.
  • Many employers cut back workplace safety and health efforts due to an absence of strong government oversight and enforcement.
  • Montana led the country with the highest fatality rate. Tied for second were Louisiana and North Dakota, followed by Wyoming, then Nebraska. New Hampshire had the lowest death rate.

The AFL-CIO called for stronger safety laws, improvement of the Mine Safety and Health Act, the passage of the Protecting America’s Workers Act, and a renewal of the commitment to keep workers safe. Created in 1955 with the merger of the two organizations, the AFL-CIO comprises 55 national and international labor unions. Its union movement represents 12.2 million members from all sorts of jobs and industries.

Overall, Kansas State University has a pretty good safety record. We have our share of slips, trips and falls as well as back injuries from improper lifting, however, serious accidents do not happen very often. In our entire history as a place of higher education, ten employees or contractor employees have died in the line of duty. Half of them occurred after the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

The first occurred in 1904 when Mr. Jesse Gardner fell 20 feet to his death in the old Power Plant. The most remarkable accident occurred in 1908 during the tunnel excavation between the old Power Plant and Leasure Hall. Mr. Young Smith and his team of mules were buried in a twenty foot deep tunnel while cleaning out dirt that had caved-in the previous day. Mr. Smith was employed by a contractor out of Carterville, Missouri.

The university does not fall under OSH Act. Worker safety is under the scrutiny of the Kansas Department of Labor which provides information, training and oversight to the campus. Remember those who have died in work place accidents. Don’t become an accident statistic yourself.